The holidays often are especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one. How do we convey sympathy without saying something irritating or even downright painful? Have you ever felt helpless knowing what to say when someone has experienced a deep loss?
- I’m so sorry.
It may not feel as if you’re saying much, but honestly, there are no words you can utter to take away grief. We comfort much better when we give up trying to say something to “fix” the sad situation–it can’t be done. Let your hug, your handshake, your tears convey that you are sharing in your friend’s sorrow. The best comforters simply feel another’s pain; they don’t try to explain it.
- Would it be helpful if I ________________________________?
Fill in the blank with something practical: Brought a meal? Picked up your kids for a play date? Mowed your lawn? Helped you sort through paperwork? Took you out for coffee? Or whatever creative suggestion you think of–and then pick a date to do it. Concrete offers with a definite timetable are much more valuable than “Let me know if you need anything.” Grievers feel overwhelmed and don’t want to call people to ask them for a favor.
If you know your friend’s “love language” (http://5lovelanguages.com), you can choose a sympathy expression accordingly. When my physical-touch-friend’s father died, I gave her a gift certificate for a therapeutic massage. My gifts-friend got a big bouquet of wildflowers (after the funeral bouquets had died.) When my Dad passed away in 2011, my friend Karen knew my primary love language is quality time, so she planned a “Pamper Lynn Day’ with manicures, browsing antique shops, eating Thai food and talking about parents. It was such an emotionally refreshing day, we created “Pamper Lynn AND Karen Day” and recently celebrated our 12th annual!
- A great memory I have of him/her is _______________________.
Mourners want to talk about their loved one and hear others speak of ways that person touched their life. I often wait a few weeks to send a sympathy card so I have plenty of time to write a meaningful note of memories. (And also because grievers are inundated with “sympathy” immediately after the death. Then everyone’s life goes back to normal, but the griever’s never will.) Don’t be afraid to say the deceased person’s name.Yes, it may bring tears to their eyes, but their fear a loved one will be forgotten is even sadder.
- Is there an especially difficult time of the day/week when I could pray for you?
When I asked members of my Grief Prayer Support Group this question concerning the hardest time of day, their responses varied. Many said they dreaded too-quiet evenings without their spouse. Some hated mornings with no child to wake up for school. Still others trudged through Sunday afternoons because that was then they always visited their parent. Discover your grieving friend’s difficult time and promise to pray for them at that time—you could even text to let them know you’re praying, or send a short prayer to them.
- If you would like to attend a grief support group, I’ll go with you.
It’s hard to walk into a roomful of grievers, but so much easier with a friend by your side. Many churches hold 13-week Grief Share programs (www.griefshare.org). Stephen Ministries, funeral homes and hospice organizations often offer bereavement support. I’ve compiled a list of grief care organizations and resources in the back of my book When God & Grief Meet http ://lynneib.com/index.php/my-books/#anchor5.
- I care…and I’m here.
Your presence speaks much louder than your words. If at all possible, be present physically. Otherwise, “show up” in phone calls, texts, cards or whatever means you have for connecting. You can be the kind of friend Aaron and Hur were for Moses in Exodus 17. Moses held high the staff of God for Joshua and the Israelite army because whenever he lowered it, the enemy prevailed. But “Moses’ arms became so tired, he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands.”
Grieving is exhausting work. Ask God to help you find a sitting “stone” for your mourning friend and then show you how to hold up his/her weary arms.
For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:3
I hope you are blessed by the music video “Cry Out to Jesus” by Third Day.