“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15
Tomorrow I will be conducting another funeral. That seems to come with the territory when you are a hospice chaplain. And no doubt there will be tears shed at the service. There should be. God created us with emotions and the ability to grieve. I believe that is one of His gifts to us.
But have you ever stood beside someone who was grieving and didn’t quite know what to say our do? These are just a few suggestions that I would pass on from my experiences in the past few months.
1. You don’t need to say anything; you just need to be there.
2. Don’t tell them that time will heal and that they will feel better down the road. While that is probably true, a person who is grieving really isn’t concerned about 6 months from now. He’s just trying to make it through today. This is not the time to find the proverbial silver lining. This is the time to agree with them that sometimes life stinks.
3. Encourage them to talk. Most people need to express themselves – and no, they really aren’t complaining. They’re just trying to verbally work through the angst that they are feeling. And they may say the same things day after day. Just listen. And then listen again.
4. Check back with them in a month. At first family and friends surround people with lots of support, but then they return to their routine and forget about the person who is still grieving. Refuse to lose track of them. (In hospice we follow up with families for another 13 months.)
5. Give the person time. Grieving is not a quick process for most. It’s a lot of “3 steps forward; 2 steps back” type of progress. And when you are working with a grieving person you might want to let them know that relapses are normal and not to get frustrated.
6. Be a part of their “new normal.” Their lives will never, ever be the same again. They might be better; maybe not. They will certainly be different. I call it their “new normal.” At first they may not let you be a part, but patiently hang in there. They may need you.
7. Realize that grieving is the result of a loss. In hospice that loss is generally a death, but people can grieve other things as well – the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a dream, the loss of an ability. People who experience extreme loss of any type will likely grieve. Don’t let them grieve alone.
8. Pray for them – and tell them that you are. But don’t say it unless you really are. The words “I have been praying for you” mean more than most people realize.
9. If a person has lost a loved one, encourage them to talk about that loved one. Maybe they have pictures they can show you. Maybe they have some favorite memories that they can relate. Help them keep the memories alive. Maybe you have a memory yourself that you can share.
10. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right. Just communicate that you care. And then communicate it again.