Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Wondering how to best offer help to people you know who are mourning the passing of their loved ones? Here are five things to keep in mind:
1. Timing and Frequency
The bereaved are often overwhelmed by calls, emails, texts, or visits at the start of their loved one’s passing but ‘forgotten’ over time. To minimise stress, it is best not to take up too much time when talking to the bereaved, especially within the first month unless they ask. However, don't forget about them either as time passes and they may appreciate you dropping a note or a call to ask how they are coping.
AGBC provides a free Online Memorial option to ease the hassle of uploading media, condolences and wake/funeral details. This is another avenue for you to leave words of encouragement or comfort to the bereaved family without overwhelming them as they can read them at their convenience.
2. Take The Initiative When Offering Help
The stress and grief that the bereaved experiences can leave them with little time to make requests and even less room to make wise, informed decisions. So, offering vague sympathies such as, “I am a call away if you need help,” or asking the bereaved how you can help out might ironically, be unhelpful.
A better way of offering help would be to ask specific questions, for example, “I’m heading to the supermarket now, would you like anything?” or "Which days would you be free for me to come and help with household chores?".
3. Listen More
It can be exhausting for the bereaved to entertain multiple questions by curious enquirers, listen to well-intentioned stories about others who went through the same thing and so on. Instead, consider asking open-ended questions that invite the bereaved to share their feelings such as, “How are you coping today, so far?”. This gives them an opportunity to share as much as they want to get the pain of grieving off their chest or share as little as they want if they are not ready.
The simple act of being physically present or if not geographically possible, offering a listening ear can be a form of social support to the bereaved. Try not to interject your thoughts while the bereaved is speaking especially with words such as "I know how you feel" or "I understand" but rather, give them your full attention. Non-verbal communication such as a consolatory hug or pat on the shoulder can speak volumes.
4. Avoid Comparisons
No matter how similar, every person’s passing as well as how it affects the bereaved is a unique scenario. So, telling the bereaved it could be worse or better because of how another griever reacted does little to comfort them.
Since each person grieves differently, informing the bereaved that someone got over a loss much quicker might offer false hope if the same does not happen for them. In contrast, telling the bereaved that someone had it much worse than them may sound like adding further insult to injury.
5. Focus On Fond Memories and Good Times
There will always remain a deep longing in the bereaved to continue keeping their loved ones in mind, even after their passing. Changing the subject or only vaguely mentioning loved ones by name does little to provide much-needed closure to the bereaved.
However, reminiscing on positive memories of loved ones while they were still alive can help the bereaved remember their loved ones in happier times instead of remaining stuck in the present moment of their loss.
Although their loved ones are physically absent, Christians are assured of the hope of reunification and anticipate being present with the Lord as indicated in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Helping the bereaved keep this in mind might give them something to look forward to.
How Not To Comfort The Bereaved
Conversely, here are some types of verbal blunders that can often leave an even deeper wound in the bereaved instead of lightening their burdens:
1. Blame Allocation
This is God’s way of punishing you / them for previous wrongdoings.
Why weren’t you / they spiritual / religious /godly enough?
If you / they had / hadn’t been there, this would / wouldn’t have happened.
2. Time-Based Insensitivities
It’s been months already and you still haven’t gotten over them yet?
You should be celebrating by now instead of grieving!
Now that they are gone, you can move on to better things in life / devote more time to studies / work / your remaining children / spouse.
3. Poor Offers To Compensate
They’re in in a better place now / it was their time to go.
They’re already so old, so they’ve lived long enough.
You’re young, you can always give birth again / remarry / keep a pet.
(Peering into casket / coffin) They look so natural, like they’re only sleeping! The embalmer did a good job.
4. Reliance On Self Instead Of God
Life is life, there is nothing to do but accept it.
Feel better soon.
You need to be strong for the others.
5. Claiming To Personally Know The Situation
I know exactly what you’re going through.
I was / am in your position too. This is nothing.
It will get easier over time, as was the case for my friend / sister / etc.
In summary, everybody grieves in unique ways and different lengths of time. It would, therefore, be prudent to deal with each bereavement on a case-by-case basis. Be sensitive to others' feelings and be patient with them.