I hate funerals. I’ve conducted hundreds of them while I was a minister at a church and not one person in attendance ever wanted to be there. Our family recently laid our 90-year-old mother to rest and none of us wanted to be there, either.

Funerals are awkward and depressing. No one knows what to say or what to do.  Words seem so empty. Tears flow and we don’t know what to do with them. Death just sucks.

However, I’ve learned a few things by observation that might be helpful to you to help a friend or family member through a time of grieving.  But before I give you helpful advice, will you promise me one thing? Never, oh, never, and I mean NEVER use any iteration of this phrase: “Well, God must have needed another (fill in the bank).”  That phrase never makes the grieving person feel good and just paints God as some capricious deity who is willing to inflict pain on people for his own pleasure.

Here are five things you can do that are incredibly helpful:

    1. Make contact: give the person or family a call, stop by the house, send them an email, or choose any other form of communication to reach out to them. There are no magic words you can say to make the pain go away, but simply saying, “I’m sorry for your loss” is a tremendous gift.
    2. Do something practical for them: take some food by the house, mow their lawn, offer to pick up someone from the airport, take their clothes to the cleaners.
    3. Attend the wake, viewing, or service if you can. I know it’s awkward and painful, but just your presence means the world to the family.
    4. Send an honorarium: It doesn’t have to be very large amount at all, but even $10 given in honor of the deceased is a way to warm a grieving person’s heart. Usually, the family chooses a memorial to which you can contribute, but even making a donation to a charity of your choice in honor of the deceased is a great gift to the grieving.
    5. Share your memories.  I believe the best thing you can do for the grieving is to share your memories of the deceased.  Our life is a story and is made up of stories. So begin a sentence with, “I remember when…” and share it verbally with them, send them a handwritten note or an email. And keep doing this for the next twenty or thirty years.

The kindest gift you can give anyone is to let them know they are not on this journey alone.