Author’s note:  This is from a previous post that was well received by readers and, in light of the recent national tragedies in the Boston Marathon and Oklahoma City tornado, I thought it was timely to repost.  It is very helpless to watch the collapsing of human lives and often the question of “what can I do to help?” utters from the heart of the compassionate.  However, the people you see on television live hundreds of miles from you and are complete strangers.  Now is a good time to turn your compassionate feelings to those whom you know personally that are struggling with the death of a loved on.  Here’s how to help someone who is grieving:

The little 4-year-old boy sat on his recently widowed grandma’s lap as they both cried over the loss of the man they loved. The little fellow’s parents, thinking the young boy was upsetting his grandma, gently called him back to them and told him not to bother his grandma, to which he replied, “But I was just helping her cry.”

As a former minister, I have had the sacred privilege of being invited into the inner circle of grief for over 500 families in my life as they asked me to help them lay their loved ones to rest. 500+ eulogies later, here are a few things I’ve observed that can help grieving people cry:

Just be there

    • Your physical presence means more than anything else

Find a practical way to help them

    • Food is always a great thing
    • Mow the lawn, fix the car, drive the kids to school, etc.
    • Pick up their slack at work – it’s very hard for people to concentrate on work when they are grieving

Just listen

  • I spent two hours with a grieving family and said almost nothing as I just let them talk. When I left, the man said, “Young man, what you said this evening helped us tremendously.”

Resist the desire to answer “why”

    •  “Why?” is the cry of every broken heart.  Answering that question often leads a futile blame game in which society, God, the government, the family, television, video games, and a host of other things get fingers of accusation pointed at them.
    • Only blame a person or an institution if that person or institution is directly responsible for the death.

Avoid these statements, which often hurt more than they help:

    • “God needed another _______”(fill in the blank; angel, gardener, fisherman) heard a well-intentioned person tell a grieving parent, “God need another little angel.” Such a ridiculous statement paints God as a capricious, selfish monster who causes people immense pain just for his own gain.  That is not the God I know.
    • “There’s a reason.”  When people suffer horrific losses, this is simply nothing that makes sense about the loss.
    • “I know how you feel.” Even if you’ve had a similar loss, you never really know how another person feels.
    • “All things work together for good.” This is a statement from the Bible and people who use this mean well, but in times of intense grief, this phrase frequently causes more pain.

Say these statements:

    • I’m very sorry for your loss.
    • I’m here, 24/7- here’s my phone number in case you need to talk.
    • I’ll stop by (or call, write, text, email) next week and see how you’re doing

Keep communicating with them

    • Being there for them in the initial stage is wonderful, but more importantly is for you to be there for them well after the funeral is over.
    • Email them every few weeks
    • Send a card
    • Take them out to dinner, coffee, or stop by for a visit
    • Holidays are usually the worst- a card or phone call during that time offers great comfort
    • Check in on them in times of national tragedy. People who are grieving often struggle more when a national tragedy strikes because of all the images and stories in media.

Share your memories of the deceased person with the family

    • An old friend of my Dad recently shared one of his favorite memories of him. It was priceless!

Give them hope of a reunion

    • The only  “holy ground” I ever stood on was a rocky beach on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus fixed breakfast for his boys after his resurrection. The hope of resurrection and reunion is often the only light that flickers in the darkest of nights.

Death robs us of that which we value most: life.  When it visits our friends, or us, we struggle knowing how to help. Have you found other ways that you have been helped, or you have helped others?