5 Basic Tips to Help Someone in Grief

Here are five basic tips to help someone in grief. Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren who is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” offers the advice.

Kay is also the author of best sellers, “Sacred Privilege,” “Choose Joy,” and “Dangerous Surrender.” Yet more relevant to this article is her experience as a grieving mother after their youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013.

My wife and I know the Warren’s having served at Saddleback Church for 20 years. Moreover, my wife was on staff in student ministries for about 13 years. As a result, we knew Matthew. He was a young man with an intuitive heart for others in pain. He watched our boys when they were young, and served at our daughter’s wedding.

The anguish experienced by his mental illness and ultimate suicide was profound, just as it is for anyone who loses someone dear to them.

As a result, Kay’s advice is extremely personal to us, and I believe it is worth sharing with LET readers since our country has recently experienced mass murder in Las Vegas, New York, and Texas. Consequently, whether our role comes as a first responder or friend of those grieving, we are God’s “hands and feet” in these situations.

Kay learned that well-intentioned people will not only provide tremendous help and comfort during the days, weeks, and months of grief, but they can unintentionally wound by using words that are unhelpful.

As a result, this is her advice:

1. Eliminate the phrase “at least.” By using this phrase we tend to minimize the grief being experienced by the person. When we minimize the loss it may make the person grieving resentful. i.e. “Well at least you had him for 27 years;” or, “At least you know he’s in heaven.” These sentences were relevant to Kay’s circumstances. But the “at least” suggestions are endless. “At least you can get married again;” or “At least you can have more children.” While well intentioned, these sentences are far more hurtful than helpful. Each time we use the words “at least” in our counsel, we’re essentially telling the grieving person their grief isn’t that big.

2. Eliminate sentences like, “God must have wanted him more in heaven than he wanted him here on earth;” “Now your loved one is an angel in heaven;” “It must be God’s will.” Kay says to be careful, because these sentences further wound. Moreover, they are oftentimes theologically incorrect according to basic biblical doctrine. Furthermore, it makes God out to be a cosmic-bully who “needed” the grieving person’s loved one more, when in fact it could be pure evil on the part of humanity (i.e. Las Vegas, New York, Texas) that caused a person to lose life. While God is in control, “murder” is not part of his will. If that were the case “thou shall not murder” would not be included the Ten Commandments.

3. Comfort the grieving person and be a silent presence. Sometimes there are simply “no words at all that need to be said.” People tend to become uncomfortable in silence. As a result, we begin to fill the quiet moments with words that “frequently do more damage than good.”

4. Offer a hug and other signs of compassion. This will extend warmth that words cannot express. And you can never go wrong by simply saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” This demonstrates that we’ve acknowledged their sorrow and we join them in grief. By showing compassion through acts of kindness, cards, flowers, helping accomplish necessary tasks, we express our sincere acknowledgement of their pain and sorrow while they work through it in their own way.

5. You can never go wrong by simply allowing the grieving person to know you are praying for them. While there are public comments made by “haters” of religious expression regarding prayer, the person who is truly in grief will not be offended by this expression of empathy. It relays the fact that we are cognizant of their loss and avoids the minimization trap. Whether the person believes prayer will benefit them does not negate the loving expression of humanity offered by a person willing to exercise their faith in prayer.

Kay Warren offers the previously outlined advice in a brief-six-minute video below:

You can read more about her grief-laden-journey in Christianity Today.

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(Photo courtesy Joseph McIntyre, Bayfield Marshal’s Office)