Motivating people to practice intentional acts of kindness

Ministering To The Grieving

Practical Advice to Comforters

1. Make early, frequent, and short contacts. Stop in soon after you learn about the death, soon after it happens. Make it short, maybe a half hour. Come back the next day for 15 minutes, and the following day for 10 minutes. People seem to be helped more from these short, frequent visits than if you come the first day spend two hours, and then not see them again until the funeral.

2. Encourage involvement in plans. Encourage the grieving person to make the plans for the funeral and to do the telephoning to relatives, to the funeral director, to friends. Don't take over for them on these things that they can do themselves, and discourage other people from taking over. It's much better for the griever to do these things. It brings the reality of it into focus.

3. Encourage people to talk about what happened. Encourage the grieving to talk as much as possible about what happened. Listen to them; let them go over it; let them tell you where they were; let them tell you what time it was when the phone rang; what they were doing before that; how the morning had gone. Let them go over all the details repeatedly.

4. Encourage talking about the deceased. Encourage and allow them to talk about the deceased, to reminisce about the good and bad days.

5. Include the children. Parents often slip children off to the neighbors during the funeral. That's unfortunate. It's depriving the children of a very valuable experience. Even a little child in the arms of his mother or father, brother or sister, can sense that something special is going on. It's good for them to be a part of it.

6. Discourage the use of chemical sedation. It's good for the bereaved to cry and feel the experience, the pain. Don't deprive them of that. People who are sedated or restrained by chemicals are going to have more problems. They have to grieve; they have to feel the pain.

7. Give people a lot of time. Don't rush them. Let the grieving know that grief takes a lot of time. People around the grieving want it all to be put away. So you can help them by saying, "This is going to take some time; people are going to tell you that you ought to be getting over it; but just take your time."

8. Allow for strategic withdrawal and denial. Because we believe in the necessity and value of crying and getting our feelings out, we may on occasion deprive people of their need to mourn differently. Some people need to draw into their shells for a little while. It's an art to know when to decide that a person should be allowed to deny some of the pain—and when we should push them to feel and express it.

9. Help where there is legitimate dependency. One of the things that the churches often do best in these busy times is to provide meals for the bereaved. Other things include child care, legal and financial aid, as well as help with little practical details that the de­ceased took care of.

10. Keep the focus on the here and now. In the weeks following the funeral the grieving person may want to go back into his or her life and relationship with the deceased. Try to stay with the here and now of the hurt and the loss, and the things that have to be worked out.

11. Seek to understand grief feelings rather than becoming annoyed by them. To be a helping person who can understand the hurts of other people or their anger, their fears, their sorrows, you have to be a person who knows what those feelings are like. It starts with staying in touch with yourself. You have to deal with people being angry at God. You have to deal with people being angry at the deceased or being relieved that so-and-so died.

If you aren't threatened by these feelings, you can hear them ex­pressed (they may shake their fists and swear at God), and you can walk with them and hold their hand, and the whole thing will be forgotten. But if you put the lid on it and tell them why they shouldn't feel that way, if you feel annoyed or threatened by it, you may find the grievers drifting away from the church without ever feeling accepted or understood.

12. Actualize the death. I think it is a mistake not to have some viewing of the body. Viewing the body actualizes the death and works against the tendency we all have for denial.

13. Touch. Do hug, do put your arms around, the hurting person. When people are in shock, other people are laying words on them left and right that they seldom truly hear, but sometimes a physical contact breaks through to them. It brings him or her in touch with life. Words seldom do it. Touch is very important.

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Dr. James Kok

Dr. James Kok is the founder of the Care and Kindness Campaign