Grief is the emotion expressed in times of loss. Everyone experiences loss at some time in life.
Being quietly present with people who are grieving is a tremendous gift to give. It may be very difficult to do. To be truly present is to let the grieving person determine how she or he will express loss.
In the past several decades, our society has been able to talk about death more openly. As Christians we have always acknowledged the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as a foundation of our faith.
Funerals and memorial services are a time that we remember Christ’s death and resurrection as well as our baptism. As Lutherans, we have abundant resources to offer those who are grieving:
Prayer. As Christians we receive care from God as well as from others. Offering prayer for people who are grieving is one of the most powerful ways of communicating to them that they are receiving support from their faith community and from God.
Attend funerals and memorials. Funerals and memorials are occasions for the church community to gather to hear the word of God, to be nurtured by God’s love and promises and to offer support. If the service is difficult to attend due to time or location, help the congregation to send a small group to the service.
Active listening. There is the temptation to overload people who are grieving with advice or your beliefs to relieve the pain. Active listening is a willingness to hear what the grieving person is expressing even if it may not be what you feel.
Be age/maturity sensitive. Everyone experiences losses but no one grieves the same. Children vary according to age and ability to understand death. Be sensitive about using images about death that young children can apply to themselves or may misunderstand such as, ‘sleeping’ or ‘God called them home.’ Include them in the grieving process even though they may not participate in it.
Offer care of routine needs through your designated church group or pastor. Providing meals, babysitting, watering the lawn or feeding pets can relieve the grieving person from routine tasks and allow energy to be used for grieving or other tasks that need to be accomplished.
Recognize their loss. Send a card to convey your sympathy. When you see a grieving person for the first time, convey your sympathy. The grieving person may not want to talk about it and that needs to be respected too.
Invite people who are grieving to church activities. If the grieving person has lost someone who attended activities with him or her, invite that person to continue attending the activity. People who are grieving can feel lost in relating to others without their loved ones. You may also like to invite them to something new as they begin to redefine their identity.
Provide a support group in your congregation or refer to a support group at a pastoral counseling center. It may be a comfort to share feelings with others who have similar experiences. Home hospice care may offer grief groups in your area.
Death in other ways. People can experience the death of a dream, a relationship, a job or other losses. Sometimes it is more of a challenge to care for people who are grieving the loss of something other than a person known to the congregation. Although the opportunity to attend the funeral or memorial service is missing, the remaining opportunities of ministry are still available.
Anniversary of the death. The anniversary of the death of a loved one can accentuate the loss once again. Memories and events are recalled and may cause more grieving. The pastor and/or members of the congregation may be helpful as they remember the loved one and cherish those who grieve.