What do I say to people who are suffering great grief?
Much of what you or I would like to say seems so empty or inadequate. How do you tell someone who has just lost a child you know how she feels when you haven't experienced such grief? How do you tell a man who just lost his companion of the last 30 years that it will be all right? Or the ever-popular generic, "If you need anything, just give me a call."
Many times, just being there gives a person more comfort than mere words can express because you are there to share the grief. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). Jesus told his disciples, "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials" (Luke 22:28). In that he found comfort. Even news that others are aware of your trials can be a source of comfort. "Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more" (II Corinthians 7:4-7).
Making yourself useful is another means of serving those who have suffered loss. When your heart is broken, you don't think about little things like the dishes stacked up by the sink or getting breakfast ready in the morning. Some people find comfort by continuing the small routines because it takes their mind off their grief, but others are too overwhelmed to remember the small things. "But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves" (Luke 22:26-27). By noticing and doing some small tasks without being asked, you demonstrate without words that you are thinking about these people and considering their needs. Plus you haven't made them feel the need to ask for help, which would just add to their misery.
Seeing to a person's needs without being asked is another way of expressing thoughtfulness. "Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account" (Philippians 4:14-17). Imagine the comfort Paul received during his trials in Greece that there were people who saw to his needs simply because they wanted to and not because anyone asked them to do so. When you know someone is suffering from cancer or has recently died from a grave illness, you know the medical bills are piling up even if they have insurance. Even a small gift goes a long way of removing yet another stress and reminds people that others are thinking of them.
If you have suffered similar grief, sharing your feelings and what happened can help another know they are not alone. "Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation" (II Corinthians 1:6-7).