One of the greatest opportunities to show genuine care and concern for others is through times of grief. I hope the following words help you communicate your love for others as you seek to be a source of God-sent comfort in their lives.
Don’t Be A Slow Driver
Have you ever been on your way to an important destination and you find yourself trapped by a slow driver? I must confess, this is a major pet peeve of mine. This one individual holds up dozens of drivers as they meander through town or down some two lane road. I don’t know if they’re completely oblivious to the 38 cars behind them, or perhaps they receive some sense of demented joy from their intentional escapade, whatever the motive, it really tries my patience.
Here’s a universal truth that I have learned from my years of pastoral ministry. Funeral visitation lines will always have at least one “slow driver”…and chances are, I’m stuck behind them. Their conversations, I imagine, have something to do with the deceased’s high school football ability, or perhaps their peanut brittle recipe. Don’t get me wrong, all of these conversations are intriguing, perhaps meaningful, and encouraging, but the reality is they simply last too long.
At the funerals of influential, or well-known individuals, I’ve seen slow drivers hold up lines of 25-30 people to the point that several were unable to greet the grieving before the funeral began. I’ve personally waited behind slow drivers for 8 minutes in visitation lines before. With all the politeness I can muster, a funeral visitation line is not the place to have a full conversation with the family of the recently departed. It’s inconsiderate to monopolize their time and waste the time of others in the line behind you. If you feel the need to converse with the family about their loved one’s passing, visit them in their home or make a phone call at a time before or after the funeral.
O.K. I’m hopping down from my soap box. So what should you do as you greet the family during a funeral visitation.
We’ve discussed this above, but keep your interaction with the family brief while still making it meaningful.
This is probably isn’t need most of the time. We usually know the family of the deceased. After all, it’s why we’re there. However, you may not know all of the family or you may know the deceased, but may be a bit unfamiliar with their family. Yet their will be times that you are greeting those you may not know. Make sure they know how you know either the family members or the deceased. A simple, “Hi. I’m _______. I go to church with _______.” will suffice. Keep your connections with people simple and clear. The family is in the midst of a funeral fog and have probably been overrun with conversations and greeting during the visitation. When all is said and done, the family may not be able to remember you specifically, but as they reflect on the funeral of their loved one, you want them to be able to say, “Their sure was a lot of folks from Granny’s church at the funeral. They really cared about her.”
This shouldn’t be forced and certainly shouldn’t be done if you are completely unaware of the dead’s personality or character. However, if you know the person complement them briefly to the family. Once again, be brief. You might say, “Your Mom was such a faithful servant at our church. I will always remember that about her.” Or, “Your Grandfather brought so much joy into peoples lives. I think that was one of his greatest gifts.” You get the picture. Don’t force a complement and certainly don’t fabricate one. Be genuine and let the family know that their loved one contributed to you life and/or God’s Kingdom. It means something to know your loved one has made a difference in the lives of others.
Comfort and Console
In addition to noting the character of the deceased, it is also appropriate to offer a word that might comfort the grieving. For example, if the loved one was a believer, has fought an extended illness,and you are aware that they were ready to enter eternity, you might say, “I know _______ has been suffering for a while, but we know that definitely isn’t happening in heaven.” Or you might complement their being their for the now deceased, “I know _______ is in heaven now, but you could not have taken better care of them. You really showed that you sacrificially loved them.”
Let the grieving friends and family know that you genuinely care for their loss and their mourning. This can be done through several ways. A kind word – “I know you’re hurting and I want you to know that we care and are praying for you.” One comment I had someone speak to me after the death of their loved one was, “You know, if we didn’t love them, it wouldn’t hurt so much.” This phrase made a great deal of sense to me and I’ve used it several times to communicate my care for them and to let the grieving know that it’s alright to grieve.
As a sidenote, be careful not to trivialize their sense of loss by well intended words which they may wrongly interpret through their grief. Avoid phrases like, “I know how you feel.” and “Well, they’re in a better place.” In regards to the former, we really don’t know how they feel. We may have experienced similar loss, but all of us process grief differently. Regarding the latter, this statement is very true if the deceased trusted Christ for salvation, but it may be the wrong time to say it. The grieving know it, but in their sense of loss might take this comment the wrong way.
Eye contact also communicates care. It lets the family know that they’re important to you and that they have your full attention. We should never act preoccupied or inconvenienced when we attend a funeral visitation.
Physical touch can also communicate care. That being said, make sure the contact is appropriate. We should feel comfortable shaking the hands of others and we shouldn’t shy away from an appropriate hug. I cannot place enough emphasis on the fact that we need to be aware of those we are seeking to comfort. As a practice, let the grieving initiate a hug. As we seek to console, the last thing we want is to make the grieving feel awkward through an uncomfortable touch. For example, when my father-in-law passed away, my wife did not want to be touched. It caused anxiety for her. However, my grandfather passed away when I was in high school. A friend was at my house when I received the news. He gave me a bear hug and I knew that he’d be a friend through this grief I faced. In summary, know your audience and give appropriate consolation.