Pastoral Perspectives

WHAT CAN I DO AND SAY?

I started my first day of work at True Way by playing the keyboard for a funeral. Having been to many wake services and funerals, I often hear people share during such occasions, the difficulty in finding the right words to say to the grieving family and what to do next. There was a story of a grieving woman who was asked “How are you?” She burst out crying “What do you expect? I am not ok! You know that right?” It was an innocent question asked by someone whose intention was good but the words and timing of her question became a hurtful encounter for the one who was grieving. Another person shared how immediately after his father’s death, he was standing in the church porch. His friends were talking among themselves and every now and then, they would glace at his direction, knowing that his father had died but did not approach him. Maybe they wanted to say something or extend support but did not know what to say or do. The person felt like he had a contagious disease- something like let’s say ‘Grief Pox.’ We may experience likewise because it can be awkward dealing with people who are grieving.

Let us look at some helpful ways that might prepare us for such times as a community.

  1. Silent but present: Grieving people often do not expect us to come up with the perfect answer at that time. We need not feel compelled to say the right thing or fill the silence with words. Just sitting down with the person and being there might be the best we could do. We ought to remember Job’s three friends who did not say a word for the first seven days. The trouble began when they opened their mouth!
  2. Quoting scripture verses out of context: A woman, who arrived for her son’s memorial service was told that since her son was a Christian, there was no reason to mourn because he was in heaven. The son had committed suicide. Someone else quoted Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.” For years she bore the burden of not expressing her grief. Many grieving people are not ready to hear such verses at that particular time, especially if death had occurred unexpectedly.
  3. Practical help: Grieving people often need practical help around the house. If they are willing, get groceries; do laundry; take the children out; buy meals or even clean the house.
  4. Follow-up: After funerals, many people stop visiting, enquiring or even talking about it. Grieving people find it comforting that they are remembered even later and during anniversaries. A simple card of encouragement would go a long way.
  5. Phrases to avoid: We are often very uncomfortable with silence and so to cover up the awkward silence, we may end up saying words that we do not really mean. For example, we may say “I know exactly what you are going through.” The truth is we don’t. The dynamics of each family is so different that we cannot know exactly what others are going through. Another phrase best avoided is “I completely understand how you are feeling because it happened to me too.” Again, the dynamics surrounding each person is so diverse that we cannot completely understand. For instance, we cannot assume that the relationship between the person and the deceased was very good. It could have been abusive, estranged and very complicated.
  6. Expectations: Everyone grieves in their own way. It will be helpful for us to remember that there is no magic time period in which one needs to grieve. The pain of a death can be lessened by positive actions over time, but the sense of loss never completely disappears. Allow the bereaved the freedom to navigate their own bereavement in their own ways and on their own timelines. Some people leave church because of unrealistic expectations that grieving people must learn to move on and as quickly as possible.
  7. Scripture Verses: There are many verses in the Bible that we can quote to encourage those who are grieving but we must do so by understanding the context, the timing, and the dynamics of our relationship with the grieving person. For instance, those who are young in faith may not be able to digest many harsh truths when they are grieving.

All of us can help someone who is grieving by being sensitive, patient, flexible and by doing a follow-up. Such initiatives through compassion and timely follow-up can serve and bind up the broken-hearted. If we are at the receiving end, let us also receive such ‘meant-to-be-encouraging-words’ with grace and accept their efforts with a forgiving heart.

May God help us to learn to “weep with those who weep” and bring comfort to those who are grieving and bring glory and honour unto the Lord.


Ms Loliro Sani

November 6, 2016