Recently on Facebook I read about a homeschooled young man who had paid the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country. As both a homeschool mom and a bereaved parent I feel both sadness and honor for the parents of this young man.
Some well-meaning people posted their condolences at the site and one particularly was a woman who gave the usual platitude, "We know he's in a better place" and I began to cringe. There have been grieving parents on this earth since Adam and Eve, and yet we don't take the time to learn what to say and not to say to grieving parents. Losing Dancing Angel was the most painful thing that I have ever experienced in my life. Many, many people offered our family kind words and did wonderful things to help support our family. Unfortunately, years later what sticks in our minds are the ignorant things that at that time added to our pain.
This information is readily available on the internet, but few there be that find it. From the website for the American Hospice Foundation, here is a list of things NOT to say to a grieving parent:
Comments to avoid when comforting the bereaved
"I know how you feel." One can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
"It's part of God's plan." This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, "What plan? Nobody told me about any plan."
"Look at what you have to be thankful for." They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
"He's in a better place now." The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
"This is behind you now; it's time to get on with your life." Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means "forgetting" their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
Statements that begin with "You should" or "You will." These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: "Have you thought about. . ." or "You might. . ."
There is a lot of really good information on this page on how to practically help a grieving person. In our studies of Hebraic roots, we have learned that Hebrew is a much more concrete language. When it speaks of love, chesed, it is concerned with the practical acts of love not the mental ascent of love in our western thought. It is organizing meal preparation or childcare as opposed to sending a note saying, "Our thoughts are with you."
When I was in nursing school, I took a course called, "The Psychology of Death and Dying." Wouldn't you know it, I attended every class that semester EXCEPT for the class that dealt with the death of a child. At 19 years old, my reasoning was that I didn't think I could "handle" it. How ironic is that?
One of our texts was a book called "On Death and Dying" by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It is helpful to know that there is no set time line for death. In her book, she states:
Mourning can go on for years and years.
It doesn't end after a year, that's a false fantasy.
It usually ends when people realize that they can live again,
that they can concentrate their energies on their lives as a whole,
and not on their hurt, and guilt and pain.
Because of this, if you are called to walk with a grieving person (what I call my "valley walking friends"), be prepared for a long walk, depending on the person.
Now, what is the likelihood that you or someone you know will become a grieving person? VERY likely, right? Arm yourself with knowledge so that you will conduct yourself with honor and be a blessing and not a curse.