What do I say?
By Phillip Hines
As a minister, I conduct many funerals. It seems that as I get older, this happens even more frequently. During the past two months of this pandemic, I have been involved in five graveside services.
Even though my ministry spans 46 years, I still struggle with the right words to say to the family. I wrestle with what to do in these situations. I do not claim to have perfected bringing comfort to the grieved, but I do have a few suggestions that have helped me through the years.
First, just listen. You cannot say anything that will help as much as listening will. When Job’s three friends came to see him in his tragedy, they said nothing for seven days. “So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13).
As you continue to read the story of Job, you find they brought him comfort when they kept quiet. But as they began to speak, they brought him misery.
Far too many times, I have done more talking and not enough listening. I guess it is just human nature to feel you have to say some important words.
From grief.com, here is a list of the 10 worst things to say to someone in grief.
- At least she lived a long life. Many people die young.
- He is in a better place.
- She brought this on herself.
- There is a reason for everything.
- Aren’t you over him yet? He has been dead for a while now.
- You can still have another child.
- She was such a good person. God wanted her to be with him.
- I know how you feel.
- She did what she came here to do, and it was her time to go.
- Be strong.
Second, feel with them. Do not try to push people away from their feelings. Do not tell them they should not need to grieve or cry. They do need to cry. Let them express anger, or guilt, or whatever they feel.
Remember, everyone grieves differently. Paul wrote in Romans 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”
Third, think about their physical needs. They might need food, transportation, someone to help house guests or even someone to pay bills. If you see a need, do not wait until you have an official request. Take action and do it!
Fourth, learn from them. People who are dealing with death are coming to grips with their own mortality, and so must we. At each visit to a funeral home, funeral, or graveside service, I think about my own death. This really puts life in the proper perspective for me.
Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear death is an appointment we all must face.