“Keep encouraging one another and building one another up.”—1 THESS. 5:11.
SONGS: 121, 75
1, 2. Why do we need to discuss how to provide consolation for the bereaved? (See opening picture.)
“FOR almost a year after the death of our son, we felt deep and excruciating pain,” said Susi. Another Christian said that when his wife died suddenly, he experienced “indescribable physical pain.” Sadly, countless others experience this kind of agony. Many in the Christian congregation may not have expected their loved ones to die this side of Armageddon. Whether you have personally lost a loved one in death or know someone who is bereaved, you may wonder, ‘How can grieving ones be helped to deal with their heartache?’
2 Perhaps you have heard it said that time is a great healer. However, does it really follow that time by itself will heal a broken heart? One widow observed, “I have found it more accurate to say that it is what one does with one’s time that helps one to heal.” Yes, like a physical wound, the pain of an emotional wound may gradually ease over time if it is given tender care. What, specifically, can help bereaved individuals heal their painful emotional wounds?
JEHOVAH—“THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT”
3, 4. Why can we be sure that Jehovah understands a grieving person’s need for comfort?
3 Without a doubt, the primary source of consolation is our compassionate heavenly Father, Jehovah. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.) Jehovah, the foremost example of empathy, assured his people: “I myself am the One comforting you.”—Isa. 51:12; Ps. 119:50, 52, 76.
4 Our Father of tender mercies has himself experienced the loss of loved ones, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and King David. (Num. 12:6-8; Matt. 22:31, 32; Acts 13:22) God’s Word assures us that Jehovah has eagerly anticipated—has had an earnest longing for—the time when he will bring them back to life. (Job 14:14, 15) They will be happy and in vibrant health. Consider, too, that God’s dearly beloved Son—“the one he was especially fond of”—died an agonizing death. (Prov. 8:22, 30) Words cannot express the pain Jehovah must have suffered.—John 5:20; 10:17.
5, 6. How can we be consoled by Jehovah?
5 We can have unwavering confidence that Jehovah will act in our behalf. We should therefore not hesitate to pour out our hearts to him in prayer concerning our personal grief. How comforting it is to know that Jehovah understands our pain and provides the comfort that we so sorely need! But how does he do so?
6 One way God helps us is by means of “the comfort of the holy spirit.” (Acts 9:31) God’s active force is a very powerful source of comfort. Jesus promised that the Father in heaven would eagerly “give holy spirit to those asking him.” (Luke 11:13) Susi, quoted earlier, says: “There were so many times when we just dropped to our knees and implored Jehovah to comfort us. Every single time, the peace of God truly guarded our hearts and minds.”—Read Philippians 4:6, 7.
JESUS—A SYMPATHETIC HIGH PRIEST
7, 8. Why can we be confident that Jesus will provide comfort?
7 Jehovah’s tender empathy was perfectly expressed in the words and actions of his compassionate Son, Jesus, when he was on earth. (John 5:19) Jesus was sent to provide comfort for “the brokenhearted” and “all who mourn.” (Isa. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-21) Hence, he was characterized by deep compassion—a sympathetic awareness of people’s suffering and a heartfelt desire to alleviate their suffering.—Heb. 2:17.
8 In his younger years, Jesus no doubt had to deal with the deaths of family members and acquaintances. It seems likely that Joseph, his adoptive father, died when Jesus was still a relatively young man. * Imagine how the tenderhearted Jesus, perhaps just in his teens or early 20’s, had to deal with his own grief, as well as that of his mother, brothers, and sisters.
9. How did Jesus show empathy when Lazarus died?
9 When Jesus embarked on his ministry, it was with a remarkable depth of insight and fellow feeling. Take, for example, the time when his dear friend Lazarus died. Even though Jesus knew that he was going to resurrect Lazarus, he felt the painful sting of sorrow that overwhelmed Mary and Martha. He was so moved that a surge of strong empathetic feeling cut him to the heart and brought him to tears.—John 11:33-36.
10. Why can we be confident of Jesus’ sympathy today?
10 How can Jesus’ expressions of sympathy and consolation help us today? The Scriptures reassure us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) Since “the Chief Agent of life” personally understands what it is like to feel grief, “he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.” (Acts 3:15; Heb. 2:10, 18) Therefore, we can be confident that Christ continues to be moved by the anguish of others, to understand their grief, and to provide them consolation “at the right time.”—Read Hebrews 4:15, 16.
“COMFORT FROM THE SCRIPTURES”
11. Which scriptures do you find particularly comforting?
11 The account about Jesus’ intense grief at the time of Lazarus’ death is just one of countless consoling scriptures found in God’s comforting Word. And no wonder, “for all the things that were written beforehand were written for our instruction, so that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) If you are grieving, you too can find soothing comfort from such scriptures as the following:
“Jehovah is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit.”—Ps. 34:18, 19.
“When anxieties overwhelmed me, you [Jehovah] comforted and soothed me.”—Ps. 94:19.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave everlasting comfort and good hope by means of undeserved kindness, comfort your hearts and make you firm.”—2 Thess. 2:16, 17. *
THE CONGREGATION—A SOURCE OF GREAT COMFORT
12. What is one important way in which we can be a source of comfort to others?
12 Another source of comfort to grieving ones is the Christian congregation. (Read 1 Thessalonians 5:11.) How can you strengthen and console those who have “a crushed spirit”? (Prov. 17:22) Bear in mind that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Eccl. 3:7) A widow named Dalene explains: “Bereaved ones need to express their thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the most important thing you can do for a bereaved person is to listen—without interrupting.” Junia, whose brother took his own life, adds: “Even though you may not be able to grasp their grief completely, what counts is that you want to understand how they feel.”
13. What do we need to remember about grief?
13 Remember, too, that not everyone experiences and expresses grief in the same way. At times, only a person’s own heart grasps the full depth of the emotional pain, and it may be difficult for him to voice his innermost feelings. God’s Word states: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no outsider can share in its joy.” (Prov. 14:10) Even when someone does express how he feels, it is not always easy for others to understand what he is trying to say.
14. How can we provide words of comfort to the bereaved?
14 Understandably, then, it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is overwhelmed by grief. Nevertheless, the Bible states that “the tongue of the wise is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18) Many have found comforting thoughts to share from the brochure When Someone You Love Dies. * Often, though, the most helpful thing you can do is to “weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) “Tears have become the language of my heart,” admits Gaby, whose husband died. “That is why I get some comfort when friends cry with me. At that moment, I don’t feel quite so alone in my grief.”
15. How might we provide consolation if we find it difficult to do so in person? (See also the box “Soothing Words of Consolation.”)
15 If you find it difficult to say something in person, it may be easier to provide consolation by means of a sympathy card, an e-mail, a text message, or a letter. You could simply quote a comforting scripture, recall some memorable characteristic or quality of the deceased, or share a happy memory that you cherish. “Receiving a short encouraging message or an invitation to spend time with a fellow Christian helps me more than I can say,” says Junia. “Those expressions make me feel loved and cared for.”
16. What is a particularly effective way to provide consolation?
16 Do not underestimate the value of your prayers with and for a bereaved fellow Christian. Even though it may be difficult to express your prayerful thoughts in such an emotional situation, your heartfelt supplication in his behalf, even through tears and an unsteady voice, can be a powerful antidote to grief. “Sometimes when sisters have come to comfort me,” recalls Dalene, “I have asked them if they are willing to say a prayer. They start praying, often battling to speak at first, but every time, within a few sentences, their voice gets stronger and they say the most heartfelt prayer. Their strong faith, their love, and their concern have been very faith-strengthening.”
KEEP PROVIDING COMFORT
17-19. Why is there an ongoing need to give comfort?
17 The grieving process can vary greatly from person to person. Therefore, make yourself available, not just for the first few days when many friends and relatives are present, but in subsequent months when others have returned to their normal routine. “A true friend shows love at all times, and is a brother who is born for times of distress.” (Prov. 17:17) Fellow Christians can be a source of profound comfort for someone for as long as it takes him or her to deal with grief.—Read 1 Thessalonians 3:7.
18 Remember that bereaved ones may experience pangs of grief triggered by anniversaries, certain music, photographs, activities, or even a specific smell, sound, or season of the year. Many things a bereaved marriage mate does alone for the first time—such as attending an assembly or the Memorial—can be particularly painful. “I expected my first wedding anniversary to be very traumatic,” relates one brother, “and it was not easy. But a few brothers and sisters planned a small gathering of my closest friends so that I wouldn’t be on my own.”
19 Bear in mind, though, that bereaved ones need encouragement not only on special occasions. “Often the help and companionship offered when there is no special anniversary can be very beneficial,” explains Junia. “Those spontaneous moments are so valuable and bring much comfort.” True, we cannot eliminate all the grief or completely fill the void caused by the death of a loved one, but we can bring a measure of comfort and consolation by taking practical action to assist the bereaved. (1 John 3:18) Gaby recalls: “I am truly grateful to Jehovah for the loving elders who walked me through every difficult step of the way. They have truly made me feel Jehovah’s loving arms around me.”
20. Why are Jehovah’s promises a source of great comfort?
20 How comforting it is to know that Jehovah, the God of all comfort, will eliminate all grief and provide permanent consolation when “all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Christ’s] voice and come out”! (John 5:28, 29) God promises that “he will do away with death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isa. 25:8, ftn.) Then, instead of having to “weep with those who weep,” all earth’s inhabitants will “rejoice with those who rejoice.”—Rom. 12:15.
^ par. 8 The last mention of Joseph was when Jesus was 12 years old. When Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine, there was no mention of Joseph—then or on any subsequent occasion. When on the torture stake, Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of the apostle John, which Jesus would not likely have done had Joseph still been alive.—John 19:26, 27.
^ par. 11 Other scriptures that many have found comforting are Psalm 20:1, 2; 31:7; 38:8, 9, 15; 55:22; 121:1, 2; Isaiah 57:15; 66:13; Philippians 4:13; and 1 Peter 5:7.
^ par. 14 See also the article “Comfort the Bereaved, as Jesus Did” in the November 1, 2010, issue of The Watchtower.