Do you want to help a person in mourning? Do you want to be a friend to someone you love who has just suffered great loss? Do you want to minister to and show the love of God to someone who has just had a tragedy? Be with them and don't talk to them.
You might need to say something, like, "I'm here'', but no advice, no counsel, and no pontifications. When the person in mourning speaks, just listen. No dialogue, no back-n-forth, no point and counterpoint. It's time for their monologues, time for their letting forth of raw emotion, rational or irrational. No correcting, just listening.
Job's three friends did this. They agreed to come. They may have made an appointment with Job, with Job's wife or brother; or they may have made an appointment among themselves. They acted. You, the friend or family member or minister, must act and clear your schedule, and make your arrangements. The mourner or family might call you. Make it happen, the best you can, and go.
Job's three friends had the aim to comfort and console Job, but without words. Some of us love words. We love to read, write, or talk. During raw crisis or deep loss or tragedy, personal sympathy is first expressed by presence, by being there, by being next to. No advice, no pontificating, no trying to fix them, no trying to get them over it and moving on quickly.
The person who is suffering loss does get to talk as much as they want to, if they want to. They might speak out "what if's", "if only's", "I wish I had or had not", and "why" questions. Your job is to listen. Just listen. Be in the questions now with them. This is part of their process, not yours. You may have many answers and many questions answered in your mind, but keep your mouth shut and let them do their personal grief work. Their statements may seem to be a dialogical question to you, but they are really not. Your only intervention is to keep the mourner from harming themselves or harming others in their grief. Mooring the mourning.
Real sympathy is when you mourn with the mourner. Their loss is your loss. The mourning person is the leader in mourning and you follow them into their pain. To see someone in their state of mourning is comforting to them, Are you seeing them without trying to fix them or process the pain away?
Comforters come along side and stand with the person(s) in loss, with them in there space. We hold them up, we keep them from being washed away. Consolers and sympathizers are there with, in the space of; standing or sitting with, the mourner; mooring the mourning.
-This post was first published in 2012.