What can you say to a friend when their loved one dies? People have asked me this question more than once. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly open when it comes to my losses. Maybe it’s because I work in a field that has to do with dying.
Understandably, we often search for that phrase, a word, something that will comfort our friends in their time of grief. We feel like we have nothing to give, yet we want to offer something that will lift them out of their sorrow. But is it really necessary?
Now I don’t consider myself the ultimate comforter when it comes to grief, but what I’ve realized over time is that unless our words have special powers to raise someone from the dead, there is no perfect script.
People grieve because they miss their loved ones. Tears happen because people had hopes for that relationship. A daughter may have longed for her dad to walk her down the aisle one day. A father may have dreamed of going fishing with his son when they were older. We mourn for what we miss and we mourn the memories that we hoped to have.
As you support and love on your friends in their grief, walk with the understanding that experiencing a loss can flip a very normal life completely upside down. Be gentle and consider these three insights.
Quoting verses is not necessary.
Before you start flipping through the Bible to find the right verse for that condolence card, hold off for a second. The Word of God can deeply comfort others in their grief, yet all too often people use a Bible verse as a bandaid for grief. Perhaps we quote in order to fill awkwardness of not knowing what to write. I’ve been there.
Grief is normal and a natural result of losing someone close to you. Tears are sign of great love. So if God convicts you to share truth from the Bible, quote on friend. Yet keep in mind that words like “I love you,” “We care for you,” and “We are praying for you,” can be just as meaningful.
Think before you spout out the glory of heaven.
I must have done it a million times before. Maybe you’ve said it too. “We are sad, but remember you will one day see ______________in heaven!” Using “heaven” in any sentence sounds grand, but have you ever thought about what all this implies?
Based on the Bible, I truly believe that God allows Christians to see other believers in heaven one day. While I can’t judge the salvation of others, when my dad passed in 2015, I had no doubt that he was heading straight to heaven (I wonder what he’s doing now!). In my head, I reminded myself that one day I would get to see him in heaven again. That cliche is truth yet there was something really depressing about.
Imagine a friend telling me this.
Your dad, the one who read and prayed for you every night growing up, is going away. I know he couldn’t tell you exactly what day he was leaving so you couldn’t say goodbye right before he left, but don’t worry. You’ll see him again. I have no idea when that time will be, but don’t be sad! You will get to see him again. No you won’t be able to call him if you need help with your car or have questions about home maintenance. But really aren’t you so glad you’ll see him again? No, you won’t see him this week. Or this year. More than likely, you’ll get to see him probably in…. about 60 years? But don’t be sad! He’s in heaven! And you’ll see him again!
To someone who lost a spouse, heaven could sound like this.
Your husband, the love of your life who hugs you at the end of every bad day, just left you. No, he didn’t cheat on you, don’t worry. But he’s gone far far away and though he’s perfectly safe, you can’t see him. No, you can’t call. Don’t be sad though! He’s in heaven. More than likely, you won’t see him for a few decades. For now, you’ll be by yourself caring for the kids and and you pretty much will be going to all future weddings and parties solo. I know it must be hard, but don’t be sad! Really, don’t cry! Because you will get to see him soon (in about 60 years or more).
I have been encouraged by people who have told me truth–that ONE DAY I will get to see my loved ones in heaven. But before we quote these types of encouragements, be careful not to spout out heaven as a means to snap someone out of their sadness. As friends we walk alongside others in their grief. And when your friend is grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s not easy , even if they are sure their parent, grandparent, child or friend is in heaven. There is waiting involved and sometimes it can seem like forever.
Offer friendship. Offer remembrance.
There are no words that will bring a loved one back. Nothing. So rather than trying to find those perfect words, you can offer comfort by remembering your friends’ loved one. You could share a story. Or ask how they are adjusting to life without their spouse, parent, child, friend. You could give them a gift that helps them remember.
When people talk about my dad or even mention his name, I love it. It means they remember him! When people share memories of my grandparents, I stop and it releases super healthy chemicals of comfort in my heart. Know that it can be a precious gift to your friend when you remember their loved one who has passed.
Because here’s how grief can feel. At the funeral, masses of people grieve with you. But with each day, the crowds dwindle and there you friend may find themselves feeling alone for the next 364 days of the year. When you remember someone’s loss, you remind them that they’re not alone.