What do you say to someone who is grieving? ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" probably tops the list of the kinds of conversation starters that should be avoided.) And actually, there are a lot of ways we can go wrong here -- saying something that isn't appreciated by one who hurts. Even when we are trying to comfort.
But chances are, we have been, or will be, put in the position of trying to comfort someone who is experiencing a painful loss. That is an important role we all play from time to time. So, what do you say to someone who is grieving?
I often remember a story told by Joseph Bayly when I struggle to say the “right thing” to someone who is hurting. Mr. Bayly lost three children to death over the course of several years. He wrote a book called VIEW FROM A HEARSE, in which he talks about his grief. He says this about comforting those who grieve:
“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he would go away. He finally did. Someone else came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat with me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
I have found Joseph Bayly’s experience to be excruciatingly typical. Both men wanted to help. Both men cared. But only one truly comforted. The difference was that one tried to make him feel better, while the other just let him feel. One tried to say the right things. The other listened. One told him it would be all right. The other shared his pain.
When put in the difficult position of comforting someone in emotional pain, sometimes what needs to be said can be said best with a soft touch or a listening ear. No words. And though at times the quieter approach has felt inadequate to me, I have come to realize that it can make a bigger difference than I may ever know.
-- Steve Goodier
Image: flickr.com/Jessica Lucia