Comforting & Helping People Through Their Loss & Grief

Who Can Help People who are Grieving a Loss

The tendency is to think that the best person to minister to people who have suffered loss is the one who has experienced the same kind of hardship. True, this person can identify with and empathize with that particular kind of loss better. Notice, however, the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

The qualifying factor for ministering to those who have experienced any kind of loss is if you have known God's comfort in your life, not if you have gone through the same experience. Do not use your inability to identify with the exact loss as an excuse for lack of involvement. If you have known God's comfort, you have something to offer others.

People who will tend to devote the most time and energy into this kind of ministry are usually those who have the gifts of exhortation and/or mercy. We all, however, are commanded to comfort one another.
 

What People Need in Their Grief:

Each type of loss requires ministry in keeping with the needs of that kind of experience. Everyone, however, who has suffered loss of any type, needs attention to these basic needs in order to be comforted:

  1. Need for presence

The word translated as "comfort" in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 is the same word translated "encourage" in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 -- 'parakaleo' which literally means to call to one's side ... presence.
 
People are important in times of suffering. Often, however, that is when those who have suffered tend to withdraw so it is up to you to go to them rather than wait for them to come to you.
 
You may be afraid of bothering them or becoming an added burden. Certainly you must be sensitive and watch that people do not get overwhelmed with constant phone calls and visits. But, at the same time, if they are not getting enough calls, visits, or cards -- presence, they will feel that they are going it all alone. Be creative in how you provide this presence.
 

  1. Need for plausibility

If someone who is struggling says something like, "I can't do this anymore" or "I can't go on," watch for responding with comments like "Oh, yes you can" or "Don't talk like that" or "You're going to be okay." What you may be doing is pushing them to get on with life and ignore the pain. Eventually they do need to get on with life but it is important that they do not ignore the pain. What is hidden today often becomes tomorrow's problem.
 
What people want and need is for someone to accept the reality of their feelings, someone to listen to their cries and take them seriously. If they don't find someone like this, they may internalize their feelings and go into deeper depression or try to prove that people should be taking them seriously by attempting suicide or something else harmful as a cry for help.
 
You may have a tendency to want to fix people's problems. What you fail to realize is that going through the process can be just as important as the cure in God's economy. When you don't allow people to talk about their struggles or to feel the emotions, you could become a stumbling block in the healing process or in what God is seeking to accomplish through it. Remember the story of Job and his friends who failed to give Job the plausibility he needed but rather jumped to judgment.
 
As humans, we tend to seek comfort in temporal and physical terms ... the removal of pain. God sees comfort in internal and eternal terms which very well could mean continued suffering. Your part could simply be to provide comfort, not to take away the suffering.
 

  1. Need for perspective

When people are hurting or grieving it is easy to lose perspective. Nothing seems to make sense. It is difficult to remember the good days and even more difficult to imagine life with meaning again. (See Job 10:18-22 for an example.)
 
People do need help to regain perspective, to see that life has had meaning and will have meaning once more, that there have been joys and there will be joys again. But, this should not be at the expense of or before presence and plausibility. Presence and plausibility pave the way for you to help people gain perspective.
 
When they are ready, working through the Walk the Walk Even When It Hurts Devotional Guide with them could be a helpful tool to help them regain perspective.
 

  1. Need for practical assistance

Often people who have experienced loss have resultant physical and financial needs. Knowing that some of these needs are tended to can bring relief. It can free them to focus on what is most important. Knowing that people care enough to meet these needs brings a form of comfort.
 
While practical assistance is important, meeting physical needs due to the loss should not be the sole ministry extended by the church. People also need the comfort that comes through extending presence, plausibility, and perspective. Emotional and spiritual devastation can remain long after the physical needs are met. Ministering to the whole person can take you on a long road to recovery and healing. How quickly this can be forgotten after the first month or two following the loss.

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Also Check Out: Types of Loss