We think we’re going to remember, but usually we don’t. It’s easy for me to remember December 3rd every year, the day my sister’s oldest son was born and lived just one hour. On that day I email or call my sweet sister to let her know I’m thinking about Ben, remembering his precious life and her loss. Every year on September 4th I get an email from a friend remembering the due date of our baby that died before his birth. It means a lot to me to know that our Little Jewel is not forgotten.
This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of a dear friend’s widowhood. Ten years ago her husband died of cancer. Months ago, while we were talking about Alberto, I asked Maria, “When did he die?” I wrote down the date and added it to my calendar as soon as she left. Unfortunately I don’t always do this with everyone I know, but in this case I now have the privilege of loving my friend by remembering her husband. She may need some extra encouragement, so I’m going to call her today and see if she would like a visit.
One time when I was unsure whether I should say something to a friend about her loss, another friend recommended, “Always say something.” In most situations we are encouraging people by keeping the memory of their loved one alive. Sharing God’s comfort is always a good thing.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say and our fear keeps us from reaching out in compassion. A book I found very helpful is When You Don’t Know What to Say by Sandy Lynam Clough. Here is what she suggests:
1. Spend time. The ministry of presence: sometimes the pain is too great for words, and someone may simply need us to be there with them.
2. Say, “I’m so sorry.” Avoid statements like: “She lived a long life.” (A life is never long enough for those who are grieving their loss.) “God must have needed him in heaven.” “There was probably something wrong with your baby, so God just took him.” “You can have another baby.” “At least you have your other children.” A safe caring thing to say is a heartfelt, “I’m so sorry.”
3. Don’t feel like you must try to solve their problem. “Because we serve the One who is the Solution and the Answer, those of us who are Christians tend to feel that we are obligated to bring a solution or an answer to every problem and difficult situation.” We often feel helpless, but the person grieving understands this. Just go to her and talk, send an email or spend time with her. She just needs you.
4. Listen. If it seems appropriate, you can ask a question such as:
Do you want to tell me what happened?
Are you afraid?
What are your days like?
What concerns you most about the situation?
Are you able to sleep?
How do you want me to pray for you?
Can I give you a hug?
5. Offer help. Ask if you can watch her children to give her a break. Offer to bring a meal. See if making some phone calls for her might meet a need. Offer to pick up something at the store while you’re out.
6. Surrender. When friends are in crisis it can bring fear into our own hearts. Ask God to help you to surrender the future to His loving care, trusting He will take you through anything. Only His love can make life peaceful.
7. You’re My Hero! Tell her how her way of handling the situation is an inspiration to you. When we went through our son’s broken leg and false accusations leading to a DHS investigation, it comforted me when a friend said, “You are doing a good job, Sara. Keep it up, this won’t last forever.”
8. Pray! Most importantly, pray for your friend and offer to pray with them. Some people feel uncomfortable with this, but most people like it when a friend offers to pray for and/or with them. This can be done in person or over the phone. You can even write a prayer on a card. It is meaningful when a person who cannot even identify with your kind of loss takes time to cry and pray with you. I know.
I hope some of these wonderful ideas help you comfort others. Check out Sandy’s book for more practical hints. Not long ago I ran across an obituary of a girl I grew up with who died in a car accident several years ago. I am writing it down – the end of the summer I’m going to send her mom a note of remembrance. Although she knows she will see Sarah again someday, the grief of her loss never ends.
If you have a friend who has recently experienced loss or is approaching a painful anniversary, take a few moments to let them know you care. Think back to when a friend comforted you and when God comforted you through a trial. Now you have the opportunity to minister.