This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.
During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.
As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.
Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.
Paint a bigger picture of heaven.
In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.
Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.
Keep your grieving in check.
When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”
I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.
Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.
Put a pause on your personal issues.
Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.
Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.
Do your job.
This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.
I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).
Help with the basics.
That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.
Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.
Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.