Comforting the Grieving
Recently we prayed for several of our hospitalized friends suffering from Covid. After days of struggling with the disease they succumbed one by one. We actually thought that some of them would pull through since we were getting frequent encouraging updates, but our hopes were dashed when we heard of the passing away of our dear friends.
We stood as mute spectators whose muffled grief was interspersed with questions such as: Why did this happen? We thought our friend got the best care, What went wrong? We did everything possible, How can we comfort the loved ones left behind? Questions such as these keep coming to us – even now.
Perhaps the closest biblical parallel would be the reactions of Martha and Mary to the Lord when their brother Lazarus died: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32). Identical words, identical sentiments, and identical grief.
The truth was that the Lord was not physically present in Bethany and Lazarus died. But through this seemingly hopeless situation of sickness, death, and grief, we are taught one of the greatest truths of Scripture: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die, Do you believe this?” (25,26).
As much as this is the future hope for the grieving family, it is also a present and future hope for every believer. We have seen painful sights of families in sudden shock and grief at the passing away of their loved ones.
Most of the funerals are done within a matter of hours; with only members of the immediate family and one or two hospital staff attending. Due to strict pandemic protocols the body is enclosed in a bag with a small transparent window through which the family can get one last glimpse of their loved one. A pastor gives a brief exhortation from God’s Word with Scriptural verses of encouragement.
One particular funeral stands out in my memory. The person who had died was an outstanding servant-leader having dedicated decades of his life to the ministry. His two children were unable to make it for the father’s funeral. His widow, also a partner in his ministry and suffering from multiple physical ailments, was alone in her agony. She wept unconsolably speaking to herself, in grief coupled with loneliness and pain.
How do we comfort those who are grieving? One might hear efforts to comfort grief-stricken persons with the words, “Don’t worry, as Christians we’ll see each other again!” Even though this statement is correct, would it bring comfort to the grieving family? The grieving Christian knows this truth. Perhaps a better response would be to speak only a few words.
Many of us, like Simon Peter at the Transfiguration of Jesus think we need to say something: we really don’t have to. Allow the Holy Spirit to minister. You may say a few words of comfort, but if you don’t know what to say please keep silent. It is in times like these that silence actually speaks more eloquently than words. A pastor, at a loss for words to comfort a grieving young widow after her husband’s funeral, just sat next to her and held her hand. A short while later, during a pastoral visit, the woman said, “Pastor, thank you for those words of comfort that you uttered that day. They were so comforting!” And yet he hadn’t spoken a single word.
Once the funeral is over then come the moments when you begin missing the person. It probably starts with the same evening; the emptiness in the house is something only those grieving can tell more about. In India a funeral is a social event; friends and family come to be supportive to the grieving family. However, in the Covid scenario except for the immediate family no others would be there. The absence of the deceased person is felt during family prayers; at meals; on Sunday while attending worship, and, in short, at every turn. For some time it seems that the pain never leaves the grieving family. Thank God that some families remember the good times and anecdotes connected with the deceased person and this often brings laughter through the tears.
To all those who have suffered grief during this epidemic our hearts go out to you. May the Lord strengthen you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. May you experience the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter and Who comforts us through the ministry of believers “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Cor. 7:6).
May you also pass on this comfort which is given to you: ”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 2:3,4).
May the Lord Bless you!