"Weep With Those Who Weep": The Practical Do's & Don'ts of Ministering To The Bereaved [Part III]
When I began sharing this series earlier this year, I did so because I know the weight of grief — even the anticipatory grief I & my family as a whole have experienced in caring for my father — and I wanted to encourage countless others in their own actualized losses. While I have shared parts of my family’s caregiver journey on Long Live The Brains podcast over the past two seasons, only those closest know there are actually a total of three elders for which God has chosen us to partner in providing care. I do not believe anything happens by chance, there is simply God’s design. Thus, I know it is by divine design that as my family prepares to say our final goodbyes to my daddy's baby sister — in just 48 hours from now — I leave you with this final installment of the “Weep With Those Who Weep” series — in which I share (2) important don’ts of ministering to the bereaved:
1.) Don’t take anything personal that the bereaved says or does. Remember, this time is not about you. Don’t try to make another’s grief look pretty so you can feel less uncomfortable – less helpless.
2.) Don’t chastise the bereaved. Don’t judge their feelings. Watch your tone and consider your words carefully. Remember in Part I of this series we saw Christ’s loving example. When confronted with Mary’s accusation that her brother would not have died had He been there, Christ still did not chastise her (John 11:32). He simply reassured her that he was going to meet her need now, in-spite of his prior delay (John 11:34 - 44).
Therefore, be an ally to the bereaved. Lovingly redirect others who encourage them to deny their feelings by making such statements as, “Don’t cry.” I had this occur in an arrangement conference, during which a husband encouraged his wife not to express her sadness over the loss of her beloved father-in-law. To be clear, I had no doubt that he was also sad over the loss of his own father. However, he simply didn’t as openly express that sadness through tears. I was confident he meant well; therefore, I lovingly redirected him after he uttered this directive a second time. I looked directly into the wife’s eyes only – so that her husband wouldn’t feel rebuked. I held her gaze and said firmly, in my best Claire Huxtable voice:
“However you feel is okay. Your tears are completely normal. Everyone grieves differently, so don’t you dare feel like you need to hide or apologize for them – at least not to me.” I released her gaze, turned my head slightly, and her husband immediately apologized. He said with genuine contrition, “You are absolutely right. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry honey.” He then began to explain how close his dad and wife grew during the end of his father’s life, as they cared for him.
Mission accomplished and no offense caused – thank God!
Furthermore, Matthew 7:1 admonishes us “not [to] judge so that [we] will not be judged.” The context of judgment referenced here is of a subjective feeling -- an opinion, not the righteous judgment addressed in John 7:24 which deals with matters of sin. The expression of genuine grief is not sinful; and, we Christians must stop giving this non-biblically based impression to the bereaved. In fact, Matthew 12:36 cautions us about the free and careless expression of our opinions – “But I tell you every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”
Remember, “Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…It is the price of love.” – Craig Miracle
What is the consequence of not following Christ’s example when interacting with the bereaved? Simply stated, if you are not prayerful, compassionate and unconditionally loving in your approach, the bereaved will avoid you. If injured deeply enough, he/she will avoid all others, retreating and completely isolating him/herself. If left alone to grapple with such overwhelming feelings – normal grief could quickly shift to complicated grief, characterized by risky and self-destructive behaviors. As we must continue the practice of social distancing, for a while longer under some circumstances, the avoidance of such emotional injury remains a matter of utmost gravity. Hebrews 9:27 assures us that we will all be among the ranks of the bereaved one day. Therefore, decide to minister today as you desire to be ministered to when your season of loss arrives.
...With a full heart, I end this special series with these culminating thoughts on what it is to be a licensed funeral director — called to serve your own family, while you too are grieving:
Some will cry and that is perfectly okay,
It is in fact the price of love
Others must speak — share memories to keep the legacy of their loved one alive, and that too is fitting
Yet, there are others...
Those who will not show up at the family home the Friday before,
Who will not (cannot) verbalize what they feel,
instead they write verses,
powerful prayers on worn pages of their heart
Not everyone sheds tears,
some instead choose to serve—
to be tear catchers
to be what they need themselves
Not everyone will faint or fall, they must instead stand seemingly sturdy— with the full weight of emotion oh so heavy upon their chest— and they catch the falling as their knees buckle
Even in their limited strength, they know this is their role,
their calling to be fulfilled
There will be those you may not ever see break down, perhaps they feel they cannot— after all, someone must manage the details of death,
They instead disappear when they can...go for long walks
In solitude they sing, they sing those old spiritual psalms & hymns in guttural tones which for centuries our elders have used as their balm:
“There’s a leak in this old building and my soul has got to move...
Has got to move...to a building not made by hands.”
That is what you did my dear...you moved...
I miss you sorely...but when my title is also free and clear,
I’ll join you in that land...where there is joy...never ending joy
Until then, you enjoy it for us all beauty.