Four months after my father's death, my mother mentioned that she often found herself wandering aimlessly around the house, trying to "focus." And why not? She had spent 61 years of her life focusing her energies on husband and family. Her husband was now deceased, and her children were grown and gone from her household.
It is customary to rally around grieving friends and relatives at the time of the funeral. But as Christians we know to extend our care far beyond those initial days and weeks after the shadow of death falls upon a friend. How is the best way to show our loving concern for a friend or relative in mourning?
James' admonition to "visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (James 1:27) reminds us that pure religion includes the responsibility for emotional as well as physical aid to the grieving. Here are some practical tips for ways to be there for others in their time of need.
Remember that wedding anniversaries, special occasions, family reunions and other celebrations-as well as the anniversary of the death itself-will be especially hard times for the bereaved. These represent times of togetherness for most families, but now part of the loved one's family is missing. Sometimes people want to be alone at these times of remembrance. Sometimes they want to be with others to help them through these rough periods. These are appropriate times for notes or phone calls.
Don't judge others by how they handle grief. Mrs. Jones seems to be doing fine after the death of her husband, but we may wonder why Mr. Smith seems so melancholy after losing his wife.
Each person deals with the death of a loved one in a different way. Although Mrs. Jones may seem to be doing well, inside she may be emotionally distraught. People don't always outwardly express their emotions. Mr. Smith, who shows his grief, may be healing more quickly than his stoic counterpart. We should grant each grieving friend or relative acceptance, love and respect.
Don't assume that one manifestation of bereavement is more painful than another. The loss of a parent or a spouse in a long-term marriage is agonizing. But nothing can compare with the devastation of losing a child. This is true no matter what the age of the child involved.
At the death of a parent, young children or teenagers will no longer enjoy the benefit of a mother's or father's guidance and loving presence. On the other hand, an adult whose parent has died has lost someone he has known all his life. As Christians we should be sensitive to everyone who suffers a loss, no matter what his age or relationship with the deceased.
Offer reassurance. The elderly especially often feel a sense of loss of purpose after the death of a mate. Show the new widow or widower that he or she is still important to you as a parent, friend or sister or brother in Christ. Help someone in this situation see that you appreciate what he or she is going through.
Don't place a time limit on grief. Some people may be healing well after a year. Some may never heal entirely.
Continuing concern for those who have suffered a loss can take many forms. Sending notes and cards, even just to say, "Hi! I'm thinking about you," can be encouraging. A phone call might also be welcome. Including widows and their families at simple family meals can fill a void for them. Dropping by with some vegetables from your garden or a new magazine can let people know you care.
If you have never suffered the loss of someone close to you, it may be hard to empathize with someone who has. But as Christians we have a responsibility to express loving concern. When the shadow of death falls on someone in your circle of family or friends, you can be the one to bring the words of James to life. You can be an example of pure religion.