5 Ways To Comfort The Bereaved

Wondering how to best offer help to people you know who still mourn the passing of their loved ones?

Here are five things to keep in mind.

1. Timing/ Frequency The bereaved are often overwhelmed by calls/emails/visits/etc. at the start of their loved one’s passing, but ‘forgotten’ over time. To minimise stress, it is best to not to take up too much time when talking to the bereaved, especially within the first month (unless they ask).

AGBC provides a free Online Memorial option to ease the hassle of uploading of media, condolences and wake/funeral details.

2. Take The Initiative When Offering Help The stress that the bereaved go through can leave them with little time to make requests, and even less room to make wise, informed decisions. So, offering vague sympathies like, “I am a call away if you need help,” or asking the bereaved how to help out might, ironically, be unhelpful.

Therefore, it would be better to provide suggestions like, “I’m heading to the supermarket now, would you like anything?”, or more specific options, like which days to come over and assist with household chores.

3. Listen More a. It can be exhausting for the bereaved to entertain multiple questions by curious enquirers, listen to well-intentioned stories about others who went through the same thing, and so on. Instead, consider asking open-ended questions that invite the bereaved to get the pain of grieving off their chest, such as, “How are you coping today, so far?”. b. The simple act of being physically present, or (if not geographically possible) offering a listening ear, can be a form of social support to the bereaved. Non-verbal communication such as a consolatory hug or pat on the shoulder can speak volumes, in lieu of words.

4. Avoid Comparisons No matter how similar, every person’s passing (as well as how it affects the bereaved) is a different scenario. So, telling the bereaved it could be worse or better because of how a different griever reacted does little to ease the situation.

Since each person grieves differently, informing the bereaved that someone got over a loss much quicker might offer false hope if the same does not happen for them. In contrast, telling the bereaved that someone had it much worse than them can sound like adding further insult to injury.

5. Focus On Fond Memories/ Good Times

a. There will always remain a deep longing in the bereaved to continue keeping their loved ones in mind, even after their passing. Changing the subject, or only vaguely mentioning loved ones by name, does little to provide much-needed closure to the bereaved.

However, reminiscing on positive recollections of loved ones (when they were still alive), can help the bereaved remember their loved ones in a better light instead of remaining stuck in the present moment.

b. Although loved ones of the bereaved are physically absent, Christians are assured of the hope of reunification, as indicated in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Helping the bereaved keep this in mind might give them something to look forward to.

How Not To Comfort The Bereaved

Conversely, here are some types of verbal blunders that can often leave an even deeper wound in the bereaved who hear them (instead of lightening their burdens):

1. Blame Allocation

  • This is God’s way of punishing you/them for previous wrongdoings.

  • Why weren’t you/they spiritual/religious/godly enough?

  • If you/they had/hadn’t been there, this would/wouldn’t have happened.

2. Time-Based Insensitivities

  • It’s been months already and you still haven’t gotten over them yet?

  • You should be celebrating by now instead of grieving!

  • Now that they are gone, you can move on to better things in life/ devote more time to studies/work/your remaining children/spouse.

3. Poor Offers To Compensate

  • They’re in in a better place now/ it was their time to go.

  • They’re already so old, so they’ve lived long enough.

  • You’re young, you can always give birth again/remarry/keep a pet.

  • (Peering into casket/coffin:) They look so natural, like they’re only sleeping! The embalmer did a good job.

4. Reliance On Self Instead Of God

  • Life is life, there is nothing to do but accept it.

  • Feel better soon.

  • You need to be strong for the others.

5. Claiming To Personally Know The Situation

  • I know exactly what you’re going through.

  • I was/am in your position too. This is nothing.

  • It will get easier over time, as was the case for my friend/sister/etc.

In summary, everybody grieves differently in different ways and lengths of time. It would, therefore, be prudent to deal with each bereavement on a case-by-case basis.


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