"Weep With Those Who Weep": The Practical Do's & Don'ts of Ministering To The Bereaved [Part II]
5.) Give the bereaved permission to cry, to scream, fall apart, rest – to grieve. Reassure the individual that what he/she feels is normal and okay. DABDA – the acronym denoting the stages of grief, first outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying (1969), stands for: Denial Anger Bargaining Depression and Acceptance. However, as Kubler Ross explains, the grief process should not be viewed as a straight-line. The bereaved may seemingly progress quickly through the cycle of grief but then seemingly digress weeks or months later.
There is no set timeline for arriving at acceptance. There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to grieve. However, if you observe that a bereaved individual is engaged in any of the following, please do not wait to suggest professional mental health counseling/or intervention; and, offer to go with him/her, for as long as needed, to lend moral support:
Use of recreational or illegal drugs, Abuse of alcohol or prescription medications, Promiscuous sexual behaviors, Being verbally /or physically abusive to oneself or others
These can be signs of complicated grief.
6.) Offer the ministry of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 Peter 5:7).
As a death care professional, each of the families I am privileged to serve leaves an imprint on my heart. One such family was a younger couple – who after inexplicably losing their second child, found themselves standing once again in a cemetery. There was no clergy – there was just this beautiful couple and me… Initially I stood back at a respectful distance in heartbroken, silent prayer for these two virtual strangers. I pled for guidance and the Spirit of God answered me with one word: “Pray...”
So, I stepped forward and said in utter humility: “I am not a minister; but, if you would like, I can certainly pray.” I looked deeply into the shattered eyes of that father, and he equally as humbly said, “Yes, that would be nice.” So, we joined hands, and I offered a prayer to my loving Savior…
I thanked Him for not only being our Savior and our High Priest, but for also being our friend – for choosing to come to this world and experience all the pain and loss He knew we would endure, all so that He could understand our human weaknesses. I thanked Him for the perfect season in that couples’ life, when He would direct them to the doctor who would provide the answers they seek. I thanked Him for the means through which He would grant this couple’s desire to be parents, again in His perfect time. I asked Jesus to keep that couple together – to help them to love one another unconditionally. I asked God to raise a community of support to reassure them that their grief is okay. I thanked God for bringing me back to Jacksonville, when and how He chose to do so, that I might meet these two beautiful human-beings, to minister to them at such a time as this. I thanked the Lord for His infinite wisdom. I thanked Him for the daily portion of grace that I was confident – because of my own personal experience with Him – He would grant the couple.
7.) Make a note of holidays, birthdays, wedding anniversaries and death date anniversaries – particularly at the one year mark. No, you will not remind them of their pain by mentioning these occasions. Why not? The bereaved will never forget their loved ones are not present. Ask if they already have something special planned to commemorate the day. If so, participate. If not, get to work and plan something special.
On the one-year anniversary of my god-brother’s sudden death, I had dinner with his widow and young son at The Cheesecake Factory. I had recently been gifted with a $50.00 gift certificate from my employer, so we all ate on that blessing! We all missed him terribly – as we do every day; but, we did so together…and by God’s grace, without any tears that night.
8.) Help the bereaved to understand that grief is a journey. One reaches his/her final destination when he/she emerges a stronger, more compassionate human-being, equipped with understanding of purpose – the level of understanding which can only come through enduring pain.
As Rick Warren famously stated, “Out of our greatest pain often comes our greatest ministry.”
STAY TUNED FOR PART III -- the conclusion of the “Weep With Those Who Weep:” The Practical Do’s & Don’ts of Ministering to the Bereaved - special grief series -- next Thurs., April 29th.