Comfort the Bereaved, as Jesus Did

LAZARUS, a resident of Bethany, became seriously ill. His sisters, Martha and Mary, dispatched messengers to their close friend Jesus. But the illness took Lazarus’ life. As he lay in a tomb, friends and neighbors visited Martha and Mary “in order to console them.” (John 11:19) At last, Jesus arrived in Bethany and went to see his dear friends. By considering what he said and did, we can learn something about how to comfort the bereaved.

Your Presence Shows You Care

To reach Bethany, Jesus had to travel for about two days, crossing the Jordan River and climbing the steep winding road from Jericho. Martha quickly went to greet Jesus at the outskirts of the village. Later, when Mary heard that Jesus was present, she too hastened to see him. (John 10:40-42; 11:6, 17-20, 28, 29) Jesus’ presence was surely a source of comfort to the grief-stricken sisters.

 Today, our presence can likewise console those who grieve. Scott and Lydia, who lost their six-year-old son, Theo, in an accident, recall: “We needed family and friends for support. They came in the middle of the night, straight to the hospital.” What did these friends say? “At that moment, we did not need words. Their presence said everything​—they cared.”

The Bible says that when Jesus saw those weeping over the death of Lazarus, he “became troubled” and “gave way to tears.” (John 11:33-35, 38) Jesus did not consider it unmanly to shed tears in front of others. He felt their pain and shared their loss. The lesson for us? When visiting the bereaved, we need not feel embarrassed to weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15) On the other hand, do not feel obliged to compel the bereaved person to shed tears. Some may prefer to do so in privacy.

Listen Compassionately

Jesus may have had in mind some words of encouragement for Martha and Mary, but he apparently let them speak first. (John 11:20, 21, 32) When he did speak with Martha, he asked a question, and then he listened.​—John 11:25-27.

Being a good listener shows genuine concern. To console the bereaved, we need to listen well. We can prove ourselves good listeners by asking questions that invite the bereaved to express themselves further. Be careful, however, not to force a conversation if they just want to be quiet. They may simply be exhausted and in need of rest.

Grieving ones may feel numb and at times repeat things. Some give vent to their feelings. Mary and Martha both said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, 32) What did Jesus do? He listened patiently and compassionately. He refrained from trying to tell them how to feel. He no doubt understood that intense and painful feelings may well up.

If you are unsure about what to say when visiting the bereaved, you might start the conversation by asking, “Would you like to talk about it?” Then give your full attention to the answer. Be absorbed in what you are hearing. Look directly at the person and try to understand his or her feelings.

Perceiving the feelings of the bereaved is a challenge. “Our needs changed,” explains Lydia. “Sometimes we couldn’t help but cry uncontrollably in the presence of visitors. We just wanted others to be positive. Our friends did their best to understand our feelings.”

Jesus did this perfectly. He knew that each one has “his own plague and his own pain.” (2 Chronicles 6:29) Jesus adapted his response to the two sisters’ greetings. Martha continued talking, so Jesus conversed with her. Because Mary was weeping, Jesus did not talk for long. (John 11:20-28, 32-35) What can we learn from his example? It may be best to let the bereaved steer the conversation.  Your willingness to listen as they express their personal grief may bring them much comfort.

Words That Heal

When Mary and Martha said to Jesus: “If you had been here,” he did not apportion blame or take issue with what they said. His reassuring reply to Martha was: “Your brother will rise.” (John 11:23) With those few words, Jesus helped her to look ahead and kindly reminded her that there was hope.

When speaking to bereaved ones, remember that sincere, positive words can mean so much, however few they may be. Words of consolation can be spoken or written. Since letters and cards can be reread, they may provide long-range comfort. Nine months after her husband, Bob, died, Kath read again all the cards she had received. “I found that they helped me even more at that time,” she said. “That is when the comfort came.”

What might you include in a brief note of condolence? You could write about the deceased​—an experience you shared in common or a treasured quality of the individual. Kath says: “Warm expressions about Bob and his character made me want to smile and cry at the same time. Humorous stories about him made me chuckle and recall our happy life together. Many cards that I now cherish included verses from the Bible.”

Provide Practical Help

To help Lazarus’ family, Jesus did what we cannot do. He brought Lazarus back to life. (John 11:43, 44) But we can do practical things that are within our power, such as preparing a meal, offering accommodations to visitors, doing the laundry, minding young children, running errands, or providing transportation. Simple acts of genuine love will no doubt be deeply appreciated by the bereaved.

Understandably, grieving ones may need some time to be alone. Still, you can take the appropriate initiative to keep in contact with them. “There is no time limit for grief, no date for feeling better,” says one bereaved mother. Some try to remember the bereaved on important anniversaries, such as the wedding anniversary or the date of the death. By making yourself available at such times, you may become a valued companion during difficult moments.​—Proverbs 17:17.

The comfort Jesus gave included the hope he shared with his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) Jesus assured his followers that a resurrection of the dead will take place. He asked Martha: “Do you believe this?” She replied: “Yes, Lord.”​—John 11:24-27.

Do you believe that Jesus will resurrect the dead? If so, share this precious hope with the bereaved. Provide them with practical support. Your words and actions will then bring them a measure of comfort.​—1 John 3:18.

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PEREA

Jordan River

Jericho

Bethany

Salt Sea

Jerusalem

SAMARIA