Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I’ve lost count of the many times people have come up and asked me, “How do I walk alongside someone going through a loss of health or a loved one? How do I support them?” It’s something that I keep hearing again and again.
As a parish community, we’ve had far too many funerals than what I’d consider a fair share in a parish church. Some have been diagnosed with serious illnesses too. And I’m glad to note that people want to extend their support to those who’re hurting. Yet, they struggle with what they could or need to say. Hence this attempt on my part to offer some guidelines to you that I hope will be of some help.
If you’ve ever been in difficult times, you know that advice is a tricky thing. It’s well meant, of course. But in their attempt to be helpful, a lot of people can say stuff that’s, well, just not helpful. So, if you’re walking with someone who’s going through hard times, here are some genuine ways you can help without giving advice.
People who’re going through a loss are afraid that you will either forget their pain or forget the one they’ve lost. It helps if you remember anniversaries of deaths or birthdays or diagnoses. Send cards or a text on those days. Share memories you have of their loved ones. Remind them that you see them.
The person in pain doesn’t need you to help steer them to the bright side. In fact, they might need the opposite - validation. Acknowledge that what they are going through is a big deal - and can be a big deal for as long as they need it to be
If you must err while assisting them, err on the side of coming near. Err on the side of being made a fool. Err on the side of saying, “I’m sorry” more than you should, even if you had nothing to do with their sorrow. Err on the side of letting your spouse or partner or sister or friend grieve longer than you think he or she should. Be intentional to embrace their grief without fear.
It’s a good idea to ask open-ended questions: “How is your grief today? How is your heart? What are you thinking about?” And listen. There are times when the grieving person may need space. But mostly they want to be met where they grieve. Practice the ministry of presence. This is, after all, what the hurting person wants - friends who are near, who minimize nothing, who lament with.
For persons in constant pain, it can feel like an imposition to ask for help. But they need help
If you’d like some practical things to offer, here are a few:
“I cooked s meal/grabbed a latte for you. It’s on your front porch.”
“I rented every version of Pride and Prejudice. Can I bring them over one night? You can pick your favorite Mr. Darcy. PS: It’s always Colin Firth. I rented every Marvel movie for you. You can pick your favorite Avenger. PS: It’s always Thor.”
“Would you like me to come over and pray for you/with you? I won’t linger.”
“Choose one of the following and I will do it for you today: (a) take your kids away from you for a couple of hours; (b) do your laundry at my house; or (c) take you for a night out.”
“I’ve paid for a house cleaner to come to your house this week.”
Do you get the idea? Practical help and lots of compassion are all you need to offer. When possible, put them in touch with the grief ministry in our parish. There’re many in our midst who heal wounds and warm hearts.
With prayerful wishes and blessings,
Fr. William Rosario