Several months ago, my great grandmother passed away. I was very close to her and the pain was very hard to deal with. Her death hurt. My heart felt like it was being torn out of my chest. I was newly married and my new husband was left to deal with me and my grief. I swung between crying and just simply being moody. Sometimes I needed a hug, other times I wanted to talk, but my husband didn’t know that I just needed him to listen. I didn’t need him to “fix” me. I didn’t need him to tell me that I just needed to get over it. I knew that. But it was hard. I needed love and support.
Jesus dealt with death and two sisters’ grief over their brother. In John 11:21-22, we see Martha’s response to the death of her brother. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
We see in the first verse that Martha was grieving and questioning why this had happened. But she had moved farther than that. She also recognized that God is sovereign and would do what he saw best for them.
Next we see the grief of Mary. She was back at the house grieving with others who had come to comfort her. When she saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and questioned why this had happened. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The responses of these two ladies to the death of their brother illustrates two responses to dealing with grief. In the first, Martha sees comfort in the fact that God is sovereign. Mary illustrates the response that is more commonly found in most individuals after they have lost someone dear to them. She questions why this would happen. She uses the phrase “if only.” This is used frequently among the mourners. They frequently blame themselves and others.
Jesus had the task of trying to comfort two women who had two different perspectives on their brother’s death. What was he to say to them?
We read his response to Martha in verses 25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha responded that she did believe. Jesus took this opportunity to teach her about salvation and the truth that we can have eternal life through Him. Martha was in a position where she was ready to be taught. She was ready to learn and grow even through the difficult circumstance of her brother’s death.
On the other hand, Mary was not in the place where she could hear and respond to biblical teaching and Jesus recognized that. Jesus’ response is recorded in vs. 33-35 and 38: Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping… and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept…
Now, stereotypically, in our society, men are’t supposed to cry. Some think that it makes them seem less masculine and strong. But here is Jesus, the perfect man, crying! He sympathizes with Mary by crying with her. He did not scold her for not believing in him, for not dealing with it. He cried with her.
Everybody deals with their grief in a different way. Some just need a caring, understanding person to listen to the intense pain and suffering they are experiencing. Others may need a shoulder to cry on. And still others need to be taught how to grow through these circumstances. But all need to be directed to the Perfect Counselor who knows how to comfort each individual according to their own unique needs.
Here are a few “do’s and don’ts” when talking to someone who is grieving:
I once read of a man who, following the terrorist attack on our country on 9/11 was talking to someone who told him that they were so glad they hadn’t been in the World Trade Center because they would have died. This man’s response was not to worry, his turn was coming. And later he said that what happened that day wasn’t anything unusual, “thousands of people died and evil people did evil things…” I think it’s pretty obvious what is wrong with this kind of response. When a tragedy, such as a death occurs, NEVER minimize it as if it did not even matter!!! It matters to your loved one, and, therefore, it should matter to you.
Some other things you should never say are:
- You need to get over it/ It’s been ___ number of months, you need to get over it
- You can always have another baby
- Don’t ask all kinds of questions about the death
- Don’t talk too much, just listen
- Don’t tell them to call you, instead let them know you call them and get in touch with them later
- Don’t try to make it better or rationalize it, don’t be a know it all
Some things that would be encouraging and helpful to do and say would be:
- Share good memories about the person
- Tell them you love them and you are praying for them
- Sometimes it’s better not to say anything or much, just give them a hug, be there to listen to them, love them, and support them
- You can bring them a meal, or offer to watch their children
- Send a card, an email, or even just a little text just to let them know you are thinking of them
Remember, never be callous in your response or minimize the persons tragedy in any way. This will certainly close the door for any further opportunity you would have had with this person to help them deal with the grief. Remember that some of our “pet phrases” can actually be more damaging than helpful. One of the best things you can do is just be there to listen, sympathize and maybe even cry with the one who is hurting. I can’t stress just how important it is to just LISTEN! Sometimes they won’t have much to say, other times they may need to say the same things over and over. This is a normal part of the healing process and having someone there to listen to them will help immensely! And lastly, direct them to the One who can offer the perfect comfort for that person.
My husband, after going through this with me, soon learned what I needed. That I just needed to talk. He just sat with me, held me, let me cry, and listened to me. Picture yourself in my husband's situation. If I came to you, would you know what to say? If I asked you “why did this happen”. How would you respond? It is my hope that you will now know how best to encourage and comfort a person who is going through something like I went through.