Dustin was able to make it back to Aiken for his viewing and funeral, but he made the trip solo because I had to stay in Atlanta for work. When he got home, he was recapping the events to me and one of the things he noticed was that there are many people who don't know what to say or do around people who are grieving. I'm sure a lot of that comes from the fact that there is really nothing you can say or do to make their pain go away, but there are things you can do to make it easier. I am around grieving parents who have lost their children everyday, but I am by no means a psychiatrist or an expert on grief. These are simply some things that both Dustin and I picked up on when we went through our own storm this summer. These are definitely not directed at any particular person, because we've had great support from friends and family, but rather these are some helpful guidelines to follow when there is someone in your life going through a hard time or dealing with the loss of a loved one.
1. Don't say "I'm sorry". Unless you are a direct cause of their pain, there is no need to apologize. They already know you are sorry for their loss, but what they need to hear is how their loved one's life- no matter how short- made a difference to you.
2. Don't bombard them with Scripture in person. Even though it is Truth, they don't need you to stand there and recite seven verses to them. Chances are, they are numb to hearing most of the same verses over and over. Scripture will still speak truth to their hearts, but a better way to do this is to include one or two verses in a handwritten note or even an email. It would also be a good idea to include the names of a few songs they can listen to on their own time.
3. Don't ask them how they are doing over "small talk" in a very public setting. Chances are, they don't want to cry their eyes out in the pasta aisle of the grocery store or while shaking hands at church. If you really want to know how they are doing, ask them if they want to grab some coffee, go for a walk, etc. If they are feeling up to it, you can also ask them when you bring a meal by their house... which brings me to my next point.
4. Don't say "Let me know if you need anything". Nine times out of ten, they are not going to ask anyone to do anything for them. Instead, tell them what you would like to do for them and let them decide on the timing "Can I drop a meal by tonight for dinner?" "Can I come by on Saturday and mow your lawn?" "I'm at Publix right now, can I pick up a few things and bring them to you?" Also, when you bring them a meal, put it in a disposable container with instructions. The last thing you want them to worry about is how long to cook a lasagna or washing and returning dishes.
5. Don't overshadow their situation with your own personal experience. It doesn't matter if you have gone through the same exact situation; their's is different because it is happening to them. They will get more encouragement out of it if you say things like "I know right now, you're feeling like God has turned away from you. I just want you to know that He is very near even when you can't feel it and I'm praying everyday that you will feel His presence and know that He still loves you."
6. When you say you're going to pray for them- really pray for them. Even better, offer to pray with them or over them either in person or over the phone.
7. Lastly, don't assume they only need encouragement for the first couple weeks. Send them an email or drop a handwritten card in the mail after a couple months to let them know you are still thinking about and praying for them.
Even though there really is no perfect way to encourage someone who is hurting, you can still make a difference as long as you don't blend in with the crowd of hugs and I'm sorries. People just want to know that you genuinely care for them and hurt when they hurt. When they are unable to see the big picture and God's ultimate plan, you can be a glimpse of His love until they do.