Posts Tagged ‘Bereavement’

“Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, For the hand of God has struck me! Job 19:21 (NKJV)

Deb Kulkkula and Gordon Livingston tell us two more things we should say to a parent grieving the loss of their child:

  1. “I gave to his memorial fund.” Many bereaved parents fear that their children will be forgotten. The friend of a bereaved parent set up a memorial fund for their son and each year on the anniversary of the boy’s death they make a contribution.  For his parents, the sense of continuing and remembrance goes a long way.  Another parent was comforted when she was told her church started a scholarship fund in memory of her late son.
  2. “I mowed the lawn.” People often voice the open-ended offer, “if there’s anything I can do.” which will probably not work because the bereaved person won’t want to ask for help or might not even know what they need. It’s better to make a more specific offer such as “I’m bringing you a meal tonight, I’ll be there at 6 o’clock,” or “I’ll take care of the lawn tomorrow.”

At the same time, there is one phrase we should never say to a person grieving the loss of a loved one:  “I know how you feel.”  As Livingston explains, saying those words “betrays such a lack of understanding of what the bereaved parent is going through.  People mean well by sharing their own periods of grief, like the death of their grandmother or a beloved family pet, as a way to sympathize.  However, those are not equivalent losses and the words more often than not are simply ignored or may even anger the bereaved parent.  As Livingston says, “To try to explain to people that this is the kind of loss that transforms you into a different person, that you will never be the same person you were before this happened, is almost impossible.”

Maybe the words of someone acquainted with death and grief may teach us what this sad experience can do to us: “We will let this bereavement make us more kind and gentle, more forbearing, patient, and thoughtful toward the living.”[i]

Father God, help my presence and words bring comfort to those who grieve the loss of their loved ones.  Use me as your instrument to help and heal their broken hearts.

[i] White, E.G.  Life Sketches, p.253.

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Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. Job 1:20 (NKJV)

What do you say to a mom or dad who has suffered the ultimate heartbreak, the death of their child?  July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, a project which Peter and Deb Kulkkula started to honor the families trying to cope after the death of a child.  Columbia, Maryland, psychiatrist Gordon Livingston, explained, “No one knows how to react. There’s nothing they can do so they come up with these meaningless platitudes… that are either dishonest or carry with them no consolation whatever,” Livingston told TODAY Parents.[i]

Most people are so uncomfortable that they may avoid you in public places and never approach you in private not knowing what to say or do to help you during this time of pain.  Livingston and Deb Kulkkula suggested these four things to say or do for a grieving parent:

  1. “Do you want to talk?” Don’t distance yourself and don’t abandon them. As Livingston says, “What works is your presence. There’s no set of words that will work each time, but being there for someone in a supportive way is what provides the most consolation.” Bereaved parents need people who allow them to talk, so look for ways to open up the conversation and give them a chance to speak. Check on them regularly so that if they want to talk, they can.
  2. “I remember the time when…” Don’t avoid mentioning the child who has passed away. For his or her parents that silence, not even mentioning their son or daughter’s name, can be “deafening.” Many parents crave hearing their child’s name and stories about them. They love hearing stories, memories, or anecdotes about their children as well. The problem with most people is their discomfort which keeps them from talking about it with the family. So unless a parent tells you, “I can’t talk about him or her now,” we encourage you to talk about their children.

We want to emphasize, your presence, willingness to listen to their stories and their pain, and your encouragement is more important that clichés, platitudes, silence, or distance.

Father God, Help me to be available and willing to listen to my friend’s pain as they grieve the death of a loved one.

[i] http://www.today.com/parents/child-loss-what-you-should-should-not-say-parents-t30596?cid=eml_tes_20150709

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He Understands!

Scripture:  Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!  So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. Hebrews 4:15-16 (CEV)


Observation:  cannot be touched with the feeling ofGreek, “cannot sympathize with our infirmities”: our weaknesses, physical and moral (not sin, but liability to its assaults). He, though sinless, can sympathize with us sinners; His understanding more acutely perceived the forms of temptation than we who are weak can; His will repelled them as instantaneously as the fire does the drop of water cast into it. He, therefore, experimentally knew what power was needed to overcome temptations. He is capable of sympathizing, for He was at the same time tempted without sin, and yet truly tempted [Bengel]. In Him alone we have an example suited to men of every character and under all circumstances. In sympathy He adapts himself to each, as if He had not merely taken on Him man’s nature in general, but also the peculiar nature of that single individual. [Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Heb 4:15). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]


Application:  I know that people mean well when they tell someone who has lost a loved one words like “I know how you feel.”  What they mean is that they too have experienced a loss at some point in time and therefore they know what that experience is like.  While they intend well by saying something that will help the other person feel better, the reality is that very few words, if any, will make a person in that situation feel better about their loss.

For any of us on the receiving end of such sentiments, we smile, we express appreciation, and deep inside we wish there was an answer to our pain, or that there was someone who was truly experiencing what we do and yet could remove our pain.  At the same time, we sure don’t want the memories of our loved one gone and fear that if the pain goes away so will those memories.  One of the things that parents who have lost children fear the most is that their children will be forgotten.

Our text for today reminds us that Jesus is the only one who can truly sympathize with us.  In other words, He is the only one who can truly feel what we do.  Now, while we know and understand that concept, it’s much easier to accept it and adopt it when things in life are going well.  It is in the long run, when we are in the midst of the day-to-day pain and agony, that those words really make a difference and begin to bring the healing we desperately need.

In the meantime, your loving actions, your presence, your kindness toward the bereaved are more valuable and more important than any words you may say.


A Prayer You May Say:  Father God, thank You because You are the only one who truly understands and feels our pain, and because You are the only one who can bring solace, comfort, and lasting peace to our lives in turmoil.

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Talk Grief Away

Scripture: (Job 10:1 NKJV)  “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.

Observation: Bildad, the Shuhite, one of Job’s friends who came to be with him in his sorrow, attempted to “correct” Job and to show him where he was wrong.  Job responds from the depths of his pain.

Application: In talking about “The Inner World of Grief,” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross encourages those in bereavement to talk about their grief and to talk about their loss and their loved one who is no longer with them.  I will quote her words: THE STORY
When your loved one became sick, there were medical visits, case histories, and physical tests.  Then they found the lump and your world immediately began to change. (62)
Now you sit alone remembering the story of your loss.  You may find yourself retelling the story to friends and family.  Immediately following the loss, everyone wants to know how it happened.  You tell your tale through your sadness and tears.  You talk about it after the funeral.  When friends come to visit, you discuss the parts of the story you continue to grapple with, like “I didn’t see it coming,” or “They told us she was sick, but none of us realized just how sick she was.” (62)
As time passes, however, you may see others grow weary of hearing the story, although you are not yet tired of telling it.  You may not consciously notice this, but when you encounter people who haven’t heard it you are grateful to have their ear. (62)
Telling the story is part of the healing of a traumatic event, no different from the trauma of large-scale disaster. (62)
While you try to comprehend and make sense of something incomprehensible and your heart feels the pain of loss, your mind lags behind, trying to integrate something new into your psyche.  It is something that moved too fast for your mind to understand.  The pain is in your heart, while your mind lingers in the facts of the story, reenacting and recalling the scene of the crime against your heart.  Your heart and mind are joined in one state, pain remembering pain. (63)
Telling the story helps to dissipate the pain. Telling your story often and in detail is primal to the grieving process.  You must get it out.  Grief must be witnessed to be healed.  Grief shared is grief abated.  Support and bereavement groups are important, not only because they allow you to be with others who have experienced loss, but because they provide another forum for talking about the devastating events that befell your world.  Tell your tale, because it reinforces that your loss mattered. (63)
You will find the story changing over time; not necessarily what happened, but what part you focus on.  Telling the story may also offer the opportunity for important feedback or information, as the listener may have missing pieces of the puzzle or insight you previously lack. (63)
The stories we tell give meaning to the fact that our loved one died, which is why, in American Indian cultures, stories are given the highest priority.  In fact, the function of the elderly is to tell the stories of the lives and deaths of the ancestors, the stories that keep their history alive. (64)
Our stories contain an enormous amount of pain, sometimes too much for one person to handle.  In sharing our story, we dissipate the pain little by little, giving a small drop to those we meet to disperse it along the way. (65)
Sometimes a loss is so great, you need a larger platform.  Sometimes people create videos, write stories about books. (65)
Some speak about their losses to groups. (66)
When someone is telling you their story over and over, they are trying to figure something out.  There has to be a missing piece or they too would be bored.  Rather than rolling your eyes and saying “there she goes again,” ask questions about parts that don’t connect.  Be the witness and even the guide.  Look for what they want to know. (66)

When I worked or volunteered as a Hospice Chaplain, and later as a Grief and Bereavement Counselor, I reminded my families or clients what I once heard, that Pain Shared Is Pain Divided.  When we talk about our loss, our pain, our loved ones, we are sharing the load with others who are stronger  than we are at that point and who, hopefully, by listening can help us carry that heavy load until we are able to stand again on our own.
I have been asked often by people who want to help their friends or loved ones who are terminally ill or who have experienced a loss (a relative, their job, their house, etc.) what they should say to them.  They’re afraid to go visit their friend or loved one because, “I just don’t know what to say.”  What I always tell them is, “The best thing you can do for them is not what you say but that you are willing to just listen.”
Bildad, Job’s friend, got many things wrong, both about Job and about God.  But the one thing he did get right were his words: “He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, And your lips with rejoicing”  (Job 8:21 NKJV).  There will be a time when your friends or loved ones are ready to listen to words of encouragement and hope, and they will appreciate you reminding them that death is not forever, that grief and pain are not forever, but that one day death, pain, and suffering will come to a permanent end.

Prayer: Father, thank You that while we experience pain in this life, it too will come to an end when Jesus comes.  May He return soon so we can enjoy the peace and the happiness You intended from the beginning.

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