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Simple Ways to Witness the Grief of Others

We’ve all been there, right?

We stand in the visitation line at a funeral, and fret about what we’re going to say once we reach the bereaved. We worry we’ll say the wrong thing. An awkward thing. Or that a complete sentence won’t even come out of our mouth.

Here’s the thing… they may not remember anything we said, but they will remember that we were there. Sign the visitor book, stand in line and offer a short, heartfelt condolence to those who grieve. And remember…

Your presence matters more than your words.

Or a few weeks later, at the store, we see someone we know is in a season of grief, and we talk about everything except their lost loved one. After all, we don’t want to remind them of their loss, right? (That even looks crazy in print.) Of course we are not going to remind them of their loss — they are always thinking of their loved one. Want to know a secret? They may actually want to talk about their loss and hear someone mention their loved one’s name.

They are comforted by knowing WE have not forgotten.

The easy part? Less words are probably better. We don’t have to say much. A hug, a squeeze of the hands, or a loving, “I’m so sorry” go a long way in comforting those who grieve. Be sincere and encouraging. Avoid conjunctions like: if, and or but. Grief cannot be fixed. Once we add a “but” to our sentence, our well-meant blessing may feel more like a caution or even a judgment. Here’s an example:

“I am praying for you today. I’m so sorry that your mother is no longer with you, but I hope you find joy and peace again.”

Yes, those are perfectly fine sentences. All of it may be true. But all of it may not be helpful. Here are the sentences again…

“I am praying for you today. I’m so sorry that your mother is no longer with you.

A blessing, comforting and honoring to anyone who receives it. Two short sentences. Both ending in a period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Just a heartfelt condolence filled with empathy.

Here are a few other simple ways to bless those who grieve…

What’s helpful? Offering specific things we’d like to do or ways we would like to help. This allows the bereaved the assurance that we are sincere in wanting to help. A general, “What can I do to help?” is often met with confusion and awkwardness. In the beginning, those who are grieving may not even know what they need.

Another way to continue to witness their grief? Send an encouraging text and end the message with, “No need to reply.” This will let the bereaved know we are thinking of them yet takes the pressure off of them to reply. THEN — don’t take offense when they do not reply. Wait a few days and send another text. Send another text a couple of weeks later. Then again. And again.

No need to reply.

It’s amazing how this simple tagline shows grace, kindness, patience and understanding.

Don’t be offended and keep showing up.

We often make walking alongside someone who grieves harder than it needs to be. It’s simple really.

Be brave.

Stand in that awkward, holy space and say the loss out loud.

Keep showing up.

Witness the grief.

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