Most churches do an excellent job of showing love and care when a family experiences the death of a loved one. Worshippers express sympathy through food, cards and letters, thoughts and prayers, visits, and support during the funeral. All of these things happen in the first few days after a loved one has died. Then, life goes on as normal for everyone except the grieving family.
Friends want to help, but often don’t know how. Sometimes they don’t even realize the depth of the need. Because of this, a grieving person or family may struggle for months or years with little support. The holidays add a whole other dimension. What most people consider a joyful, festive time of year can be especially painful for those who have lost a loved one.
As the body of Christ, it is our calling to help those hurting members. Here’s how:
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Everyone grieves in different ways and at different rates. What might be helpful to one person may not work for someone else. If you are unsure of what to do, ask those who are grieving. Even if they don’t have an answer, knowing you care enough to ask will bring comfort.
- Offer ways to honor and remember loved ones. Almost everyone has lost someone, so all families can participate in activities that remember those who have gone to be with Jesus. Light candles, ring bells, share memories, and create new traditions.
- Invite them to activities. But, don’t be offended if they choose to “celebrate” the holidays in a different way. Doing things the same way as they did before the death may be too painful. Give those who grieve the opportunity to decide what feels most comfortable in their new reality.
- Listen. Be available. Don’t be afraid of another person’s pain. Grief shouldn’t be avoided. It needs to be expressed in a safe place. It’s been said that, “Grief is the way out of the pain.” Try not to offer advice or “fix it.” Just listen and offer to pray with and for that person.
- Offer to help. The death of a loved one can change how a family functions. If the death involves a mother or a father, the surviving parent may need extra help. Pay attention to potential needs like meal preparation, car repairs, yard work, decorating, gift buying, and the needs of the children.
- Pay extra attention to children. Although grieving, kids still need to be kids. If the grieving parent is unable to do so, offer to take the children ice-skating, to the school Christmas party, caroling, or to look at lights. Let the children know you are willing to listen, but don’t push the subject if they are uncomfortable or need a break from the pain.
- Provide resources for the grieving. Give a Christian book about grief specifically to hurting families. Create a small library of resources that can be checked out by those who need them.
- Make cards. Children have a unique way of caring for others and the ability to brighten someone’s day. Have the children in your Sunday school make cards for the families who have lost loved ones in the last year or two. Provide Bible verses and words of comfort for children to include in their cards, but also let the children say what is on their hearts.
- Don’t expect an end. Never minimize someone’s pain or expect a timeline for “getting over it.” Losing a loved one can hurt forever and until you go through it yourself, you can never really understand.
- Check in after the holidays. Just like the first few days after a death, we tend to make more of an effort to show love and concern during the holidays. Then, as the weeks pass and life goes on in January, we forget that those same people might still be struggling. Make a commitment to stay connected with them and keep in touch to see how they are doing or what they might need.
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