A friend died and I wanted to give words of comfort to his wife and kids. What is the right thing to say? I considered things people said to me when my son died. When someone is consumed by the pain of a loss that is overwhelming, it’s hard to see beyond the present pain they are trying to maneuver through.This makes it challenging to be in a place where they receive comfort. Your caring thoughts, prayers and words can break through the mourner’s shield and bring breakthrough in the baby steps of healing.
Following are some things you can do and say that help the transition for someone trying to right their world that has been turned upside down. Every death or loss is unique as well as the path to healing. Here are three things people said to me that are true but I gave a silent response that was not positive which can happen when you are in shock and despair. Others may react differently when they hear these words, consider the mourning person and your relationship with them as you give comfort and love. Sometimes a simple “I’m so sorry” carries more weight than the heavier words of condolence.
1) “They are in a better place!” This may be true, but is it better without me? We live in an immediate culture that wants answers now when it’s not possible. The agony will not be answered immediately. Allow time for healing. There is indeed comfort in knowing they went to a better place. There are those who don’t believe in Heaven, but if you do the research the Bible is the most reliable manuscript and it does talk about Heaven. It is a relief and a great reassurance that when you die you don’t stop existing, instead you live in a glorious place forever. (See Josh McDowell’s book “More Than A Carpenter.”)
2) “At least they are not suffering!” But what about my suffering? That sounds so selfish, I definitely did not want my loved one to suffer! A place of no suffering, peace and beauty was beyond my comprehension as I struggled to right my world that had been turned upside down in devastation. My first husband was dying of a chronic illness, he was in a lot of pain and misery. I am always the nurse, so I asked him about the ventilator if it came to that. He couldn’t talk much but he clearly said, “ Don’t prolong my suffering.” So in the end, I kept him comfortable. In the hospital chapel was a stained glass window with arms outstretched that said “Underneath are the Everlasting arms.” (See Deuteronomy 33:27) This comforted me since I felt like I was falling, I would be caught and cared for. Now he is not suffering and he resides in a place of glory forever with no pain.
3) “You will see them again.” You may say, but I want to see them now! I know I did. Our perspective is limited. God sees the whole picture as a loving Father who is with us no matter what the outcome. He sometimes allows trials or tragedies since we live in a fallen world where people make bad choices, possibly because of abuse, addiction, accidents or violence. The promise of a royal reunion is reassuring. Jesus is our place now and for all eternity. He is a place of solace, strength and security always.
You may think some things that are better left unsaid. Here are three things :
1) “At least you still have”; your son, daughter or grandchild. The value of the individual lost can never be replaced. Actually I was glad I had my grandson to raise and my daughter. But they can never fill the whole in my heart left when my son died.
2) “You can always have more”; kids. No one needs to hear this after a miscarriage. My friend had a hysterectomy after she lost the baby, therefore she lost the ability to have more kids. Her hopes and dreams for a large family were dashed. Many years later she found fulfillment in adoption which delivered many kids to bless her and her husband.
3) “ God wanted another angel in heaven”; But people don’t become angels when they die and have to earn their wings. That’s Hollywood. Angels are real but they are warriors, messengers and ministers to humans, not a former human themselves.
Sometimes it’s not so much saying but doing. Here are seven suggestions you can do to put your support into action:
1) Hug! Embrace like you mean it, showing care and concern.
2) Sit! In silence, just being there speaks volumes.
3) Act! Watch the kids or pets.
4) Serve! Mow the yard. Take food or gift cards, they may not feel like eating but they must.
5) Show up! This is incredible. When my son died I saw old friends full of compassion that touched my wounded heart. It meant a lot that they came to honor him and support me.
6) Pray! I actually felt the support of people’s prayers. It was amazing. “The very moment i call to you for a father’s help the tide of battle turns and my enemies flee. This one thing I know: God is on my side! I trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 56: 9-10a) Sometimes there is no choice but to trust God when you can’t trust Him.
7) Give! To a funeral fund, a worthy cause or a fund for the kids.
The one who gives condolences may receive comfort from the mourning. When my husband Sam lost his toddler, he gave encouragement and comfort to those who came to give their sympathy. These words ministered to his own wounded heart and soul as well. It’s amazing how when you give of yourself, even if you feel depleted, you find yourself replenished.
Simply say “I’m sorry for your loss.” You may feel helpless and want to say something but keep it simple and sincere. I don’t presume to have all the answers and each loss is unique but as a recipient of these words with a caring hug, I have found comfort and consolation.
With love, Debbie
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Sam is a businessman, writer, entertainer, speaker, husband, father to five children, grandfather and great grandfather. Sam graduated from Huntington University with a B.A. in psychology and drama and pursued a degree in Broadcasting from Illinois Central College with graduate degree in Christian Ministry from Christian Leadership University. Sam is the creator of Granpa Cratchet, one of the most successful touring shows in the history of the live events industry. Millions of people see Granpa every year all across the United States at fairs and festivals. His characters have appeared on every major network: Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, The Today Show (4 times). Sam and his characters have made over 500 local appearances and on all the major networks; NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, PBN, The LeSea Network, The PTL Network and Praise the Lord. They currently appear all around the world every week on YouTube and Facebook, and on several satellite networks via the Kidz Television Network and The Captain Hook (children's) Show.
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