I received a call from an old friend that made my heart sink. She told me that a beloved elder from our church had passed away. It took me a moment to collect myself as my mind began to process the fact that I would never see their beautiful face again. As we continued talking, my friend told me that she wrestled with identifying the best way to support the surviving spouse who was grieving. We've all been there before, and although there isn’t a perfect science to this, I’ve outlined four things to consider when you find yourself in a similar situation.
Step 1: Never Underestimate the Ministry of Presence.
Sometimes our biggest struggle is finding the right words to say. But your presence can speak far louder than words when someone is grieving. After someone experiences a significant loss, the heaviness cast over them can seem overwhelming. And if the bereaved is someone who is used to being “the strong one,” they might feel as if they have to “keep themselves together” for the sake of those around them. Although their intentions are noble, bottled-up grief wounds the soul. They need a safe space to express the pain with someone they trust. Your loved one might have a series of questions and complaints about the loss that they experienced. In those moments, it is not your responsibility to swoop in like “baby Jesus”, attempting to provide all of the answers to their questions. That’s a big no, no. The reality is, we will never have the answers to all of the questions that burden a person's heart. Only God does. Your job is to show up and be there for them, even after the flowers from the funeral have died and they received that last card in the mail. Demonstrating that you care about them through your ministry of presence can provide them with a sense of comfort to let them know they are not alone.
"Bottled-up grief wounds the soul" - Rev. Jocelyn J. Jones, Founder of Faith on the Journey
Step 2: Learn to Listen
Although the ministry of presence is extremely valuable, it will not be nearly as effective if you are not a good listener. Listening is a skill. It requires you to learn to become comfortable with moments of silence. It requires you to be present at the moment with that person, really taking in what that person is saying, without becoming consumed about what your next response is going to be. Remember what we discussed in the previous step. You are not expected to have all of the “right answers.” What the person needs at that moment is a compassionate comforter, willing to bear witness to them sharing the pain on their heart. Do your best to allow the person who is grieving to lead the direction of the conversation. Try to avoid comparing your grief stories to theirs. Although you might have experienced a similar type of loss, their grief experience might be different, so keep the focus on them. Also, do everything in your power to eliminate distractions. Put your phone on vibrate or silent while visiting them, and for goodness sake, please do not respond to text messages or calls while your loved one is talking unless it’s an emergency. When you are fully present with them physically and emotionally, your loved one will feel valued and supported.
Step 3: Don’t try to fix them. Honor their emotions.
Grief is a natural, God-given emotion that we experience anytime we lose someone or something we love. Grief plays a critical role in our healing process. So even though we never want to see a person we care about in pain, it does more harm than good if we attempt to rush them through their grief journey. Grieving takes time. Giving someone the space they need to be honest about their pain is a gift, especially when they need a space to sort through their emotions.
While grieving, they may find it hard to focus, cry at random times, or have moments where they cannot complete the simplest task. Some might even find themselves getting angry about the smallest things or having a tough time sleeping at night. These symptoms might cause a grieving person to feel as if they are losing their mind. When your loved one describes these struggles to you, you can affirm and encourage them by letting them know that these are normal responses to grief, and there is nothing for them to be ashamed of.
In some cases, the heaviness that your loved one feels might become overwhelming. The person who is mourning may find themselves in a place of hopelessness and despair. As a comforter, you mustn't minimize the loss of the grieving person, yet remind them that there is still hope. Dr. Diane Langberg, clinical psychologist, wrote that “Comforters must bridge the gap between death and hope.”  Our faith as believers helps us see beyond our present moment, and if the person who is mourning believes in Jesus Christ, there is always hope.
Although we are called to bridge the gap, it doesn’t mean that we are called to hit the person over the head with a bunch of Bible verses. We must ask God for discernment in these moments. When guided by the Holy Spirit, we will know when to refer to scripture and when it's appropriate to be still and mourn with those who are mourning, as stated in Romans 12:15. Similarly speaking, sometimes the grieving person might be having a crisis in their faith due to the loss they experienced. They might feel abandoned or angry with God and might not be at a place where they can pray. Once again, we must resist the urge to come in and save the day. If the person is not at a place where they desire to pray, don’t force them. Just add them to your prayer list and continue to utilize the ministry of your presence to allow God’s light to shine through you.
Step 4: Help them to receive the additional support they need
Everyone’s grief journey is different. Depending on the type of loss someone has experienced (i.e. if the loss was traumatic or unexpected), one’s healing journey can be long and arduous. Although you desire to be there for your loved one, you must recognize your limitations. Never underestimate the power of a healing community. God created us as relational beings and brings other people into our lives to help us get through the tough seasons in life. Encourage your friend to get additional support from their church community, a counselor, or even a support group to help them to continue to move forward on their grief journey. Our company offers free groups throughout the year designed to support those who are grieving and the people who are caring for them.
If you need a Christian counselor please visit our website for more information HERE.
"Never underestimate the power of a healing community." - Rev. Jocelyn J. Jones, Founder of Faith on the Journey
 Diane Langberg. Suffering and the Heart of God. How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores. New Growth Press, Greensboro, 2015. p.188.