It is a rare Sabbath School class that has not had a student who experienced the loss of a loved one. Immunity to death is nonexistent this side of eternity; therefore, the mourning process is going on in many classes.
Typically, class members attend the visitation and the funeral, but in the weeks and months following the funeral the grieving person is isolated. This is not intentional but a result of not knowing what to do or say.
A class can invite an experienced grief counselor to teach them the principles of grief support. Reading materials on this topic can be given to the class. It would be wise to organize to meet the needs of a bereaved student rather than leave it to chance.
The following suggestions for practical support may help:
- Offer to do laundry, lawn care, etc., especially when the grieving person’s energy levels are low and emotional pain is intense.
- Offer to take the person grocery shopping.
- Offer to take the person to church and Sabbath School with the understanding that you’ll take them home if they are overcome by a sudden wave of grief.
- Offer to assist in organizing and disposing of personal belongings. Some people wish to do this alone or with certain family members, but some people may not have family nearby.
- Offer to accompany them to the cemetery the first time after the funeral.
In these suggestions “offer” is used for good reasons. In grief there is an enormous lack of energy, inability to concentrate and organize, and fear of doing certain things alone. Friends who initiate without being pushy are appreciated and needed. The helper needs to understand that it takes time before a person wishes to do things such as returning to church, disposing of personal belongings, or visiting the grave.
- Invite an experienced grief counselor to speak at a class potluck or Sabbath School training event.
- Start a monthly reading program of interpersonal communication on the topic of bereavement support.
Class members can give emotional support to the bereaved in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remember the loss. Months after our son died I entered my office to find a large red azalea plant on my desk. The attached note read, “By now many may have forgotten. I want you to know that I still remember your son.” This thoughtful act came from a dentist who belonged to my church.
- Don’t hesitate to speak about the deceased person. A man who was baptized by our son in New York drove hundreds of miles to visit our son’s grave. As we stood by the grave, he told me the story of how our son introduced him to Jesus. His story once again reminded me that our son’s life was of great value. His life would impact the life of his New York friend permanently.
- Listen. A bereaved person needs to verbalize feelings and memories. The same thoughts may be spoken many times. Speaking with a friend who listens carefully has a positive effect. Dismiss the idea that you can take away the pain. Going through the pain with a kind friend actually mellows the pain. This is a gradual process made a little easier with a friend who uses two ears and a big heart.
- Don’t fear tears—theirs or yours. Tears are the jewels of remembrance—painful, but glistening with the beauty of the past. Jesus wept. He mingled the tears of divinity with the tears of humanity.
- Be present to a person consistently, indefinitely. Losing a loved one changes a person, never to be the same again. Even after fairly adequate adjustment, an event or situation may trigger painful memories not yet adjusted to. There will be temporary upsurges of grief. A steady friend will help the person go through this temporary pain.
- Socialize. In early grief a person may not tolerate pleasure and even feel guilty if they smile or laugh. They may avoid social activities of the class, but give them time. Don’t refrain from inviting them. It may help to plan quiet events with a small group. Let them know that it is acceptable to leave early.
- No barrage of questions. When numerous people ask, “How are you doing?” the grieving person may feel like running for cover. A warm handshake or an arm around a shoulder helps. A warm statement such as “It’s very nice to have you in class today” is much less intrusive.
Pray that God will give you wisdom and perception to say and do what is the most comforting. God miraculously channels His comfort through us when we are willing to be used by Him (see 2 Corinthians 1:1-10).
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists