What do you do when you hear a friend’s loved one passed away?
Do you call immediately, risking that you are one of dozens of people calling offering condolences (which may not be a good thing, actually)? Or do you wait a day or two to call, to let the emotional tide calm down a bit and allow those closest to respond first? Sometimes I’m not so sure.
I know what I want to accomplish: I want my friends to know I genuinely care for them and that I am sorry for the pain and hurt they are about to grieve through.
Seems simple enough. Just call them and let them know. Except…
Each time I hear a friend’s lost a loved one, I try to think about the way I’d want to be treated. And truth be told, if someone close to me died, I wouldn’t field most phone calls on day one. They’d go to voicemail. I’d only want to hear from my closest family and friends. From those impacted to near the same degree as I would be impacted. And that’s because, to me, what I need is someone to cry with, or someone to sit in silence with… or simply time to be alone. Pretty words and Christian death catchphrases like “they’re in a better place” and “God is still good” won’t help me. Not even a little bit.
One my vices is that I don’t take compliments well. And, as it turns out, I don’t take condolences well either. Mostly because, I don’t believe people mean them. And because I hold such skepticism, I feel weird offering catchphrase encouragement to others because I’m not sure people will receive them as authentic. In other words, I’m not sure those words communicate I care or that they will be helped by hearing them. They may (like me) find very little solace in the words. Especially since everyone is saying them.
Which puts me in a rather awkward position.
How can I effectively empathize with those who are feeling the pain of loss? How do I truly offer help in such a tough time, against the backdrop of so many other condolences? Not that the whole thing is about me. It isn’t. I just want the words I offer to mean something. Otherwise, I might as well have kept them to myself.
In the past few weeks, at least four people I know have lost loved ones. And with all four of them, I waffled with the thoughts above. Do I call as soon as I find out, or do I give them time? And in each, I did what I’d want others to do to me… which is to give them time. And when I spoke to them, I wondered what to say. Do I get Christian Hallmark on them with “all things work together for the good” or “they’re in a better place?” If not, then what do I say? Because I’m telling you right now, if I were to lose my wife and someone were to tell me “she’s in a better place” I just might bite their heads off. Not because I don’t believe she would be, but because that’s not the sort of thing I’d want to hear. In fact, I don’t think I’d want to hear much of anything. Which, in turn, makes me not want to say much of anything to others when they are grieving.
Seems silly really. But, as I said before, I simply want my words and/or actions to mean something. I want to be real and respectful, as well as empathetic and loving.
So, pray for me as I engage in the many situations ahead of me!
Prayer: God, thank you for you mercy and your grace. And for the many ways you humble me. Continue to teach me to rely on you, for everything, including how to best minister to those who are hurting around me. You know my heart, and you know what they need. Connect those two as only can, and we’ll be careful to give you all the glory. In Jesus name…
Do you struggle with how to help your friends respond to the deaths of their loved ones?
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