Joseph Baly in his book, The Last Thing we Talk About, gives some insight about the right approach. He contrasts his experience with two friends who dropped by after his child died.
“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 talked constantly; he said things I knew were true. But I was unmoved, except to wish he would go away. He finally did. Another friend came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, and left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
Here are 5 ways to remember “less is more” when speaking into grief…
1) Don’t fix.
Instinct tells us to say something soothing. The attempt often goes too far. People say things like, “I’m sorry you broke up, but there are many more fish in the sea;” or, “God must have loved her a lot to take her so young,” depending upon the situation. Instead, let your presence have its own simple healing effect.
2) Get ‘em talking
Use brief, open-ended questions; but also respect times of silence. Try not to be the one to change the subject during the crisis stage.
3) Be patient about repetition.
Sometimes people need to go over the same ground again and again, waking up to what has happened and filling in the gaps. Futile speculation (“If only…”) can be part of the process. Blaming oneself sometimes provides relief from the intensity the moment, and other times it is more concerning.
4) Don’t sing songs to a broken heart.
Grief is not faithless. The shortest verse of scripture may also be the most profound: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Don’t expect or push faith as a painkiller.
5) Remember, grief is unique.
It’s subject to abrupt, quirky turns towards fear, anger, or even humor. Stages of grief are real and expected, but moment to moment, normal grief is not the norm.
When have you experienced just the right touch or gesture when you needed it?