Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When Reaching out to the Hurting Heart


November 5, 2013

Do’s and Don’ts for Ministering to the Bereaved

A couple of weeks ago a widow friend of mine asked me to come up with a list of suggestions for those wishing to help people like me.  I think a friend of hers is writing an article or something and she thought I could help contribute.  I finally sat down yesterday and came up with my list.  To my surprise, I whipped this thing out in about 10 minutes.  I had no idea all this was in my head!  There's probably even more I could add now.  I would imagine that in another 6 months, a year, two years, my list would be even longer.


Do’s and Don’ts for ministering to the grieving


  • Do NOT say, “Well, if you need me, let me know.”  The bereaved won’t.  Merely breathing and finding the will to live takes all the strength one has during this time.  Along the same lines, don’t ask, “What can I do for you?”  This forces the bereaved to have to stop and think, something that can be overwhelming in those early days and months.


  • Do inform the bereaved what you plan to do for them (such as babysitting, bringing a meal, cleaning their house, visiting) and insist gently on setting up a definite time for this.


  • When bringing meals, use only disposable dishes.  Having an accumulating stack of dishes to wash and return places a burden on the already-burdened grieving person.


  • Don’t think out loud around the bereaved by announcing nice things you’d like to do for them or their children.  Wait until you know for sure what you can do and then ask if it’s ok to plan something (for example, I had people say they’d like to take my children places and then never called to actually set up a time to do so).


  • Avoid trying to comfort by saying dumb things like, “Well, he’s in a better place now,” or “He’s watching over you,” or (my personal favorite), “Now you have your own guardian angel!”  These things are not helpful.


  • At the same time, don’t overthink every single thing you say to the bereaved.  It’s ok to use words pertaining to death.  Remember that your friend is already in so much pain that it’s doubtful she can be hurt much more by a mere careless remark.  Besides, if she’s your friend, she’s not going to be easily offended anyway.


  • Don’t be miffed if it takes months for you to receive a thank you card for your act of kindness to the bereaved.  Writing thank-you’s is another load that has been placed upon the back of the one experiencing profound loss.


  • Do tell the bereaved you are praying for them.  Then do it.  If the opportunity presents itself, pray out loud for them in their presence.


  • Be honest with the bereaved and tell them that you don’t have any “right” words, but that you are sorry and that you are hurting with them.


  • Remember important dates in the bereaved family’s calendar.  Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and death dates can be difficult days. 


  • Listen to your hurting friend.  She may say the same things over and over again those first few months.  Act like it’s the first time you’ve heard it.  Smile, even if you’ve listened to her tell the story about her husband hurridly putting on his pants in the car as the cop pulled them over (true story, by the way!) eleven times already.  Talking about the lost loved one keeps him “alive” in the bereaved’s mind.


  • Send cards, email notes, and call months after the death.  There is a flurry of these things in the early weeks, but later, the shock wears off and the hurt remains just as fresh as it was in the beginning for a long time.  Gestures of care are appreciated long after the funeral is over.


  • Don’t be afraid to engage in “normal” conversation with the bereaved.  It can be a relief to hear your funny stories and even troubles you may be having.  No, they don’t compare to the trouble the bereaved is experiencing, but she longs for pieces of normality in the midst of her shattered world. 


  • Release any expectations you might have for the bereaved.  She is not going to be able to slip back into her old life any time soon.  Find someone to take her place in former church ministries.  Don’t criticize her to others.  Let her say, do, and feel exactly what she needs to during this time.


  • At the same time, be alert to signs of depression and negative thinking in your friend.  If you see her spiraling downhill, don’t be afraid to speak to her about this.  Perhaps suggesting some counseling sources would be appropriate.


  • Many people experience discomfort around tears.  Your friend knows this and probably feels embarrassed every time she cries publicly.  Assure her that it’s ok.  Cry with her and carry lots of tissues.


  • Pray for wisdom.  God loves your friend even more than you do.  One way that He is showing that love is through the kindnesses of those around your friend.  Ask the Lord for specific ways and ideas for you to minister – He will answer!










1 comment:

  1. I think you did a great job compiling this list. Sounds very similar to one someone asked me to write one time also.