I recently read a blog by Nancy Guthrie: What Not to Ask Someone Suffering. www.desiringgod.org I want to share a few of her thoughts:
Since we have faced a number of sudden deaths in our VCF family recently, I am often asked what to say and what to do for people who are grieving the death of someone they love.
I wish I could tell you that I always know myself what to say. But sometimes words fail me. I wish I could tell you that I never say the wrong thing. But I do. In fact, a few days ago, I made the mistake I often tell other people not to make. The minute I said it I wished I hadn’t. But it’s just what came out. Here’s what I said. More accurately, what I asked: How are you?
The grieving person knows what the questioner most likely wants to hear — that everything is getting better, the world is getting brighter, the darkness is lifting, and the tears are subsiding. But often that just isn’t the way it is, and it is awkward to be honest about the confusion, listlessness, and loneliness of grief. The reality of grief is that sometimes right after the loss we feel strong, but as time passes, and the reality of life without that person settles in, we feel weak and weepy. And it’s awkward to talk about.
We’re afraid that if we tell you how sad we are, you might think there is something “wrong” with the way we’re doing this grief thing. We’re afraid you will assume we should be on a steady upward path toward normalcy and that we’re going in the wrong direction. Sometimes we want to scream that we will never be “normal” again.
So, what should you say? Let me suggest a few things:
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to face these days without (name of the person who died).
Are there particular times of day or days of the week you’re finding hard to manage; Can I pray for you during those times?
Keep on saying the name of the person who died. It is music to the grieving person’s ears.
I find myself really missing (name of person) when I _____ It is a great comfort for the grieving person to know that he or she is not the only one who misses the person who died.
I often think of you when I’m (gardening/driving by your house/going for a walk/getting up in the morning/etc.) and whisper a prayer for you to experience God’s comfort. Are there particular things I could be praying for you as you go through this time of grief?
I know that (name of the person who died) anniversary, birthday, death day, Mother’s or Father’s Day is coming up and it must be so very hard to anticipate that day without him/her here. What are you thinking about that day? Is there anything we could do to help you get through that day? We would love to have you over or coffee.
In a sense, all these questions are asking, “How are you?” but somehow, they express a desire to enter into the sorrow of another instead of merely getting a report on their sorrow. In this way, we come alongside to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).