I have been a pastor since 1972. I have sometimes had as many as 15 funerals in one year. This Instructable will share some things to do when helping a friend through grief. It will also share some available resources.
(The illustrations used in this Instructable have been shamelessly stolen without attribution from Google Images.)
Step 1: We expect death for the aged.
Step 2: Teens die, too.
Step 3: Grief stages
We tend to allow people a few weeks and imagine they are over their grief. In reality, aspects of grief persist for between 2 and 10 years. If we find ourselves helping someone with grief, we need to remember it lasts longer than we think.
A college friend lived in the same small town where we lived and served a church in the next town. His children and ours played together. We all often socialized together on Friday evenings. One day I got a call that the old car he was restoring had fallen on him and he was dead. My experience with grieving over him was waves of sadness that suddenly and unexpectedly wash over you when you least expect it. In time they became less intense and less frequent.
Sometimes people become stuck in one of the stages of grief and do not advance to the next stage. They will likely need to talk with a professional counselor.
Step 4: You feel helpless.
If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Women are especially good at holding one another up literally and figuratively. Let the person grieving lead.
One of the first experiences I had with a grieving family as a pastor involved someone I had met only once. The man died unexpectedly at home in the bathroom. I went to be with them and said virtually nothing. I think I read a Psalm and said a short prayer, but mostly, I just sat there. Months later the widow said to me, "We know you did not know what to say. But it helped a lot that you were there." If you can be available, it helps a lot.
You have probably heard of Hospice. They have a saying, "People do not mind dying. They just do not want to die alone." People know they must experience grief, they just do not want to do it alone.
Step 5: Learn to listen
One of the better resources for listening is the book Listening and Caring Skills for Ministry by John Savage. Although Savage writes for churches and church people, there is nothing in the book that is particularly "churchy." It is really quite general. No matter how much experience or training you have had with active listening, you will learn some new and very helpful things from Savage.
Talking is therapeutic for the person in grief. Talking is a necessary way of working through one's grief. If you can be a good listener, you can help a great deal.
Step 6: Another very good resource
Kairos specializes in helps for people in grief, and for those who are with them while they are grieving. This booklet is very well written and people receive it very well. While it is Christian, it could be used beneficially by anyone. The author understands the grieving process very well and is very helpful. As a pastor, I keep a good supply of these booklets on my shelf at all times. Your grieving friend will appreciate this booklet.
Step 7: Support Groups
Step 8: Anniversary dates
As a pastor I make a note in my electronic scheduler when someone dies and put that note one year into the future. When that note surfaces in my calendar a year later, I try to phone the survivor. I do not need to say much. I just say I noticed it has been a year since the loved one died. Then the survivor begins talking. The call does not take long, but the survivor thanks me very appreciatively. It means a lot that someone remembered.
Above all, do not panic when you suddenly find yourself helping someone through grief. You have the opportunity to be of more help than you know.