What is the best thing you can do for a family that has recently lost a loved one?
The most important thing that you can do for someone who has lost a loved one is to be there for them. Make the effort to go to them. What you say is not as important as your presence. Remove any preconceived notions that you might have, and be ready to listen. You need to find out where they are and meet them there. Jesus always met people where they were and started there. Being there with them is the best thing you can do for them.
Your body language is often more important than your words. Just hugging and holding them can be more important than anything you could ever say. Make the effort to reach out to the family members, hug them and let them cry. Allowing them to release their emotions at this time can be very healing. Being there is more important than the words you say. So often, people worry about what they are going to say in a situation where a loved one has been lost. Again, do not worry about what to say. Listening and finding out where they are and just being there should be your priority.
What is a common reaction that a family member might have upon losing a loved one?
Quite often a family member may be in a stage of denial. The emotional shock of losing their loved one is so great that they can’t accept the fact that they are dead. Listen and don’t be critical. People often try to pull the loved one out of denial, but quite often that can be cruel. Listen and allow the loved one to go through the process. Be honest with them if they deny the death out loud, but don’t be critical. Listen to them and allow them to process what they are experiencing.At the same time, if after several weeks, the loved one is still denying the death, take stronger steps to help them come out of the denial. If a family stays in denial for too long it can be damaging. I once knew a lady who a year after her husband passed, had still kept his office rented. He had a medical practice and she kept paying rent on the office, and left everything set up for an entire year after. This is an example of an extreme case of denial. The best thing to do when someone is in this situation is to get them some professional help so that they can accept the loss and get on with the life that the Lord has for them.
What if I want to help, what is the most important thing to offer to someone who has just lost a loved one?
Practically speaking, ask them what they need to have done. So soon after a loss, many people have their regular everyday things that need to be done. Ask them what you can do to help them. Right after a loss the loved one usually is very paralyzed by the situation. Give practical help. They may need help with preparing food, going to the grocery store or getting meals together for family from out of town. They may need places that family and friends can stay as they come in for the funeral. They may need help with banking, or running any kind of errands. They may need help making calls to family members or friends, especially those who are important to them, but that may live at a distance-those who are very close to the family, but that they may not see everyday.
Of course, there will be people that they want to call, but you can relieve a lot of stress once the arrangements are made by doing something as simple as calling their friends and family, letting them know of the death, the time and location of the funeral, once the arrangements have been made. These are just simple things you can do to help the immediate family that can be overwhelming to them, depending on the circumstances. Again the most important thing you can do is to make yourself available to them at this time. We have a very large family, and I remember when my brother died, my daughter took his van and made it her job to pick up all family and friends that were flying in for the funeral. She may have made seven or more trips a day. Several trips involved picking up more than one party that was coming in from all over the country. She too was dealing with the loss, but it was something she felt led to do, and it was very helpful to the immediate family not to have to be concerned with those details. Because she was mostly picking up family and friends that she knew, it was comforting as well to them.
She could fill them in with any details and be there for them, and together they could work through the feelings and the emotions that they were experiencing after the death. She wanted to simply be able to greet them as they arrived, and not have them picked up by a stranger. This is just one example, if for any reason you are limited in time, you can also help by finding other friends and family members that can take the time to help with some of these details. Helping those in grief with simple, normal everyday tasks and the things that need to be taken care of to make the necessary arrangements can mean more to them than anything else at this time.
What other advice would you give?
Don't expect answers from someone who is grieving, and at the same time don't try to give them. Listening and allowing the loved one to process is the most important thing you can do at this time. Allow them to cry, share memories and express the feelings that they have at this time. Encourage them by sharing a story about how the Lord has brought you through or worked in your own life.
Extract from 2=1's Legacy Magazine Hermann Knodt served as the Chaplain at Grant Hospital in Columbus, Ohio for over twenty-three years.
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