Have you ever felt helpless when someone near to you was grieving over the loss of a loved one? Sometimes we may feel unsure of what to say or do—so we wind up saying and doing nothing. But there are practical, helpful things that we can do.
Often, all that is needed is your presence along with a simple expression, such as “I am so sorry.” In many cultures, giving the person a hug or a gentle squeeze of the arm is an effective way to show you care. If the bereaved one wants to talk, listen sympathetically. Best of all, do something for the bereaved family, perhaps performing a chore the grieving one has not been able to care for, such as cooking a meal, caring for the children, or helping with funeral arrangements if that is desired. Such actions may speak louder than the most eloquent words.
In time, you may be moved to talk about the deceased, perhaps focusing on some good qualities or happy experiences. Such conversation may even bring a smile to the bereaved person’s face. For example, Pam—who lost her husband, Ian, six years ago—says: “People sometimes tell me good things that Ian did that I never knew about, and that makes my heart feel good.”
Researchers report that many bereaved people receive a lot of initial help but that their needs are soon forgotten as friends get busy again with their own lives. Therefore, make a point of contacting a bereaved friend on a regular basis after the loss.* Many grieving ones deeply appreciate this opportunity to relieve themselves of prolonged feelings of grief.
Consider the example of Kaori, a young Japanese woman who was devastated by the loss of her mother followed by the loss of her older sister 15 months later. Thankfully, she received ongoing support from loyal friends. One named Ritsuko is much older than Kaori and offered to be her close friend. “To be honest,” says Kaori, “I wasn’t happy about that. I didn’t want anyone to take the place of my mother, and I didn’t think that anyone could. However, because of the way Mama Ritsuko treated me, I came to feel close to her. Every week, we went out in the evangelizing work together and went to Christian meetings together. She invited me to have tea with her, brought me meals, and wrote me letters and cards many times. Mama Ritsuko’s positive attitude had a good influence on me.”
Twelve years have passed since Kaori’s mother died, and today she and her husband are full-time evangelizers. “Mama Ritsuko,” Kaori says, “continues to show her concern. When I go back home, I always visit her and enjoy her upbuilding association.”
Another example of someone who benefited from ongoing support is Poli, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cyprus. Poli had a kind husband, Sozos, who set a good example as a Christian shepherd by often inviting orphans and widows to their home for association and a meal. (James 1:27) Sadly, at the age of 53, Sozos died of a brain tumor. “I lost my loyal husband with whom I had spent 33 years of marriage,” says Poli.
After the funeral, Poli moved to Canada with her youngest son, 15-year-old Daniel. There, they began associating with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The friends in my new congregation,” recalls Poli, “did not know anything about our past and our difficult circumstances. But that did not stop them from approaching us and embracing us with their kind words and practical help. How precious that help was, especially at that time, when my son needed his father most! Those taking the lead in the congregation showed a great deal of personal interest in Daniel. One in particular made sure to include Daniel when enjoying association with friends or when going out to play ball.” Both mother and son are doing well today.
To be sure, there are many ways we can offer practical help and comfort to those who mourn. The Bible also comforts us by means of a thrilling hope for the future.
Some have even marked the date of the death on their calendar as a reminder to offer comfort when it may be most needed—on or near the date of the loss.