It’s a question we ask every day without even thinking about it:
“How are you doing?”
But sometimes this simple question can become the hardest question to answer when you are in the process of grieving for a loved one who has died.
As much as you’d like to give a short and simple answer like “Fine,” you just can’t do that when you’ve recently lost someone close to you. Answering “fine” would be like a betrayal to the one you are missing. And it’s untruthful too. You certainly aren’t fine.
On the other hand, to answer truthfully and say “Not very well” leaves you vulnerable to explaining your feelings and might make the other person feel awkward for asking. It can potentially lead to a fresh flood of grief and heartache that—to be honest—can be exhausting to go through again.
That’s why sometimes when we don’t know what to say, we say the wrong thing. It’s better to be silent than to cause someone more pain or annoyance.
My wife and I lost our son Christopher in a car accident when he was just 33-years-old.
After my son went to Heaven, there were a handful of people who said some pretty stupid things to me. I’m sure their intentions were good, but when you are mourning, you are vulnerable. The armor is down and you are sensitive to what people say to you. You can easily be hurt because your feelings are so raw.
To avoid causing someone further grief, let me give you some guidelines about what not to say to someone who has just lost a loved one:
Don’t compare their pain with your own
– “I know just how you feel.”
– “My grandmother died too, so I understand.”
Don’t rush to the end of the grief process
– “You’ll get over this soon.”
– “Time heals all wounds.”
Don’t try to explain God’s actions
– “God always picks the prettiest flowers first.”
– “God must have needed to have her close to Him.”
– “Let’s be thankful you still have other children.”
– “It must be a comfort to you that your other grandfather is still living.”
– “All things work together for good; God will bring good from this.”
– “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
Don’t be fatalistic
– “It must have been his time to go.”
– “This was obviously God’s will.”
What you should say to people who are grieving
Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all, but just to be present. Tears are a normal and proper response in times of mourning. It is good to weep with those who have experienced loss.
The same sensitivity of feeling that causes annoyance when someone says something wrong works the other way, too. It is attentive to encouraging and uplifting words. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 ESV). Your words can be profoundly helpful and healing.
Here are some principles to keep in mind when someone is grieving a loved one:
Keep it simple
– “There are no words to say.”
– “I’m so sorry.”
– “I love you!”
Let them know they are not alone
– “Thinking of you today.”
– “We’ve been praying for you, and will continue to pray.”
Tell them you’ll be there for them
– “If there’s anything I can do, no matter how small, I want to help.”
– “If you ever want to talk, day or night, please call me.”
– “I look forward to being with her again.”
– “He’s a bigger part of your future than he was of your past.”
Don’t avoid talking about their loved one
– “He was such a good husband and father.”
– “I always admired how sweet and kind and forgiving she was.”
– “I remember a time when just she and I got to talk about…”
– “I’ll never forget the day he pulled that funny prank on me…”
Remember: God is with us
It’s never easy losing a loved one, especially if it was unexpected. Speaking from personal experience, you will never “get over it.”
But remember this: God is with us. There is even a blessedness in mourning. Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
So as you seek to comfort people who are mourning, please remember to be patient and kind with them. Give them time, choose your words wisely and don’t forget to keep praying for them.