Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
It started last week when I learned of a family member of a family member passing away, and since then, no less than 7 others that I know or were close to someone I know have passed on to the afterlife. Honestly this type of encounter with death is new to me, but because I am a pastor and more importantly a human, of course death has knocked on the door of those I love. Even before this intense period of loss I’m experiencing, I’ve thought through the best ways to respond during periods of grief. My first brush with death came at the age of 12 when I rode my bicycle down the street with a close friend. We were riding to play football, and we decided to race. As we pedaled as fast as we could, our handlebars clashed. I fell to the ground on the plush green grass, and my friend fell to the street side with an oncoming car meeting him as it passed. 2 days later, my friend passed away. It can be difficult to know how to connect with those who have lost someone. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered this art, but I am thoroughly convinced there are lessons we can learn during these times of loss. I wanted to share some insights on what to do for someone who is grieving. These are not tips for those who actually are grieving, for the record. For those people, there are no tips, but there should be only love.
Your presence, not your words, is what’s going to help them
This morning at a wake someone looked at me and said, “I have no idea what to say, I just stood there and cried and hugged.” Across the room someone listening in to the conversation replied, “Perfect! They need your presence right now more than your words.” I don’t know why Solomon wrote this, but in Ecclesiastes, the king ponders, “A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.” It is a stunning declaration that there is something “better” about what happens beyond death than what has happened in life. This could point to the afterlife but it also could communicate how important the memory and the connection of the loved ones community is to the world after that person dies. When someone you know dies, who can you connect with in their family or friend group that could benefit from your presence. We live in such an individualistic, me-first world, and death opens us up to our mortality, and that we are better together.
Get in and get out then get in again
Though your presence is important, it is also important to remember that your presence doesn’t have to be full time. Step in. Tell them you love them. Give hugs. Tell those in the room you’re thinking of them. Walk away for the time being. But don’t forget, whether or not you have to give yourself a reminder to check in on them when things slow down. I’m probably pretty guilty of this one, because things go out of sight, out of mind in my world of people, people, people. There’s this interesting balance when someone loses someone that you don’t want to hog their time but you also want to be there for them. Initially they probably have plenty of people checking in, but the lonely times later on have to be excruciating when people go on with their lives, and they are left with the baggage of loss and memory.
Think abut the funerals/wakes you’ve been to in the last year or two. Have you checked in on those who were impacted the most by the loss of that person? Or have you (like me many times) gone on with your life hoping someone would help them pick up the pieces. Don’t be a menace, after all, this is not about you, but do make sure they know you are there and ready to help and love on them. You are their community and family!
This is not about you, so don’t make it that way
Ah, social media. The medium that lets us know loudly the news and the info and the hurt someone is going through. One odd thing that happens when someone dies is that everything they communicate about the death of that person focuses on the impact that person had on them. We hear story after story about how that person influenced this person or that person, and those stories can be good and helpful for us to deal with losing that person, but to those closest to the the person who has died, stories aren’t really enough. In some ways over the years that person stopped being a story to their loved ones, and started becoming a part of who they are. This is where true pain comes in at the loss of loved ones. While stories may be able to communicate parts of that person and who they were, those closest to them understand that the collection of stories of that person’s life somehow came together and impacted them in such a way that they literally were transformed into a different person because of the life of that person. That’s why words are so difficult when someone loses someone. Because it’s like a very piece of them has been ripped out of their insides, and they are forced to come to an understanding that they must now carry on as before, but it feels like something is missing.
When someone you love dies, do your best not to make it about you, but about those who loved him or her the most. Wrap your arms around them and help them to know they are whole and you are with them through the pain. Pray with them and for them. Love them like they deserve to be loved. Do your best to show them love like the person they lost loved them.
Can you share a way that you served someone who has lost someone they loved? We’d love to learn from you!