The anniversary of my mom's birthday is coming up. It's not a memorial that hits me every year, but some more than others. I have visited a grief and loss discussion board over the past few weeks and I've realized that there are a lot of people who are completely stymied by the thought of dealing with a grieving friend, family member, or co-worker. I thought I'd share a little bit of what I have found through several experiences grieving my own loved ones.
First off, despite the way it sometimes seems, if your condolences are simple, it's hard to go wrong. The most important thing is expressing that you care. Even if it's just a note card saying, "I'm sorry for your loss." In fact, if you don't know what to say, that's a really useful phrase to learn.
Second, let the grieving person lead the way. What I mean is, if you say you're sorry and I smile and ask how you're doing, answer me. Just because I'm grieving doesn't mean I'm consumed by it every waking moment. I can have fun or be interested in other things. Often, I need to be. Sometimes, I really want to talk about how much I miss the person who is gone. Sometimes it's nice to hear about how much my loved one blessed your life. If I'm asking about your golf game, though, it's probably not that time.
Third, please don't try to offer excuses or pithy little sayings. I know God is in control and there's no more pain in heaven, and I'll see them again when I die. These are not things of which I need to be reminded. And, especially, don't explain how it's better this way. In the midst of my grief, I'm not prepared to listen to theology, philosophy, or logic. If you think what you're planning to say may be a little iffy, remember the old stand-by, (practice with me) "I'm sorry for your loss."
Finally, remember that there is no time limit on grief. I will never get over the loss of someone I love. Sure, it gets easier. I'm not crying every day about my mom's death 16 years ago, but there are days when I still do cry. I ask God why He had to take her. I don't understand. I don't believe I ever will, at least, not this side of eternity. Grieving is a process. For some it takes longer than others. If you are concerned for the health and welfare of a friend or family member, it may be appropriate to recommend a professional counselor. Don't assume, however, that just because I'm moving on with life and getting done what needs to be done that I may not still be hurting inside. This is especially true as important dates roll around: birthdays, holidays, anniversaries.
One of the things I will always remember is the first Mother's Day after my mom died: I was a senior in high school and one of the church youth group leaders gave me a bouquet of flowers. I asked her why and she told me she'd figured I could use something a bit special that day. I doubt she has any idea how much that meant to me.
P.S. I forgot to mention that it's always a good idea to be in prayer for those who are grieving. You can choose to tell them that or not. But please don't just say, "I'll pray for you," and then not follow through. Write it on your hand or stick a Post-It to your computer monitor, but make sure your actions line up with your words. Thank you.