How Others Can Help
“IF THERE’S anything I can do, just let me know,” we may say to the newly bereaved friend or relative. Oh, we sincerely mean it. We would do anything to help.
But does the bereaved one ever call us and say, “I’ve thought of something you can do to help me”? Not usually. Clearly, we need to take the initiative if we are truly to assist and comfort one who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
A Bible proverb says: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11; 15:23) There is wisdom in knowing what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. Here are a few helpful suggestions that are based on what some bereaved persons told Awake!
What to Do . . .
Listen: One of the most helpful things you can do is to share the bereaved one’s pain by listening. So ask, “Would you care to talk about it?” Let him decide. Talmadge recalls when his father died: “It really helped me when others asked what happened and then really listened.” So listen patiently and sympathetically. “Weep with people who weep,” recommends the Bible.—Romans 12:15; James 1:19.
Provide reassurance: Assure them that they did all that was possible (or whatever else you know to be true and positive). Reassure them that what they’re feeling may not be at all uncommon. Tell them of others you know of who successfully recovered from a similar loss.—Proverbs 16:24; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14.
Be available: Make yourself available, not just for the first few days when many friends and relatives are present, but months later when others have returned to their normal routine. “Our friends made sure that our evenings were taken up so that we didn’t have to spend too much time at home alone,” explains Teresea, whose child died in a car accident. “That helped us cope with the empty feeling we had.”—Compare Acts 28:15.
Take the initiative: “Many people just went ahead and did things for me,” recalls Cindy. “They didn’t simply ask, ‘What can I do?’” So take the initiative. Instead of a “come any time” invitation, set a date and time. If the bereaved one at first refuses, don’t give up too easily. Be like the hospitable woman Lydia mentioned in the Bible. After being invited to her home, Luke says, “She just made us come.”—Acts 16:15.
Expect negative emotions: Don’t be too surprised at what bereaved ones may at first say. Remember, they may be feeling angry and guilty. If emotional outbursts are directed at you, it will take insight and compassion on your part not to respond with irritation.—Colossians 3:12, 13.
Write a letter: Often overlooked is the value of a condolence letter. Its advantage? Answers Cindy: “One friend wrote me a nice letter. That really helped because I could read it over and over again.” Such a letter need not be long, but it should give of your heart.
Pray with them: Don’t underestimate the value of your prayers with and for bereaved ones. The Bible says: “A righteous man’s supplication . . . has much force.” (James 5:16) For example, hearing you pray in their behalf can help them resolve such negative feelings as guilt.—Compare James 5:13-15.
What Not to Do . . .
Don’t pressure them to stop grieving: “There, there, now, don’t cry,” we may want to say. But it may be better to let the tears come. “I think it’s important to allow bereaved ones to show their emotion and really get it out,” says Katherine, reflecting on her husband’s death.—Romans 12:15.
Don’t say, ‘You can have another baby’: “I resented people telling me I could have another child,” recalls Teresea. They may mean well, but to the grieving parent words to the effect that the lost child can be replaced can ‘stab like a sword.’ (Proverbs 12:18) One child can’t totally replace another.
Don’t necessarily avoid mentioning the departed one: “A lot of people wouldn’t even mention my son Jimmy’s name or talk about him,” recalls Geneal. “I must admit I felt a little hurt when others did that.” So don’t necessarily change the subject. Ask the person whether he needs to talk about his loved one. Some bereaved persons appreciate hearing friends tell of the special qualities that endeared the departed one to them.
Don’t be too quick to say, ‘It was for the best’: Trying to find something positive about the death is not always comforting. Recalls Cindy: “Others would say, ‘She’s not suffering’ or, ‘At least she’s in peace.’ But I didn’t want to hear that.”
It may be better not to say, ‘I know how you feel’: Do you really? For example, can you possibly know what a parent feels when a child dies if you have not experienced it yourself? And even if you have suffered a similar loss, realize that others may not feel precisely as you felt.—Compare Lamentations 1:12.
To help a bereaved person will call for compassion, discernment, and much love on your part. Don’t wait for the bereaved one to come to you. Don’t simply say, “If there’s anything I can do . . .” Use your initiative to do something helpful.
One question remains: What can the bereaved ones do to cope with their feelings, to deal with their loss better?