Grief & Loss: What to Say & What Not to Say to a Grieving Loved One

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Today’s guest post is written by Steve Green, a Biblical Counselor with over 20 years of experience in counseling many different issues in the pastoral context including marriage, parenting, substance abuse, anger and sexual issues. From his home in Newberg he works with churches from Vancouver, WA to Eugene, OR. Steve lost his first wife, Ann, in June 2012. They had shared 30 years and were parents of 5 adult children together. God has blessed Steve with his new wife, Laura, who also lost her first husband mere weeks prior to Ann’s death. They are now blending their families and navigating how to do that well.

The Bible is a wonderful help for us as we live in the reality of the fall.  When Adam and Eve sinned the whole of creation suffered. As a result we live in a creation that has been marred, and we live as fallen people among fallen people. Isaiah gives a wonderful acknowledgment of this when he sees God in his throne room and cries out “Woe is me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)


One outcome of the fall is that we experience suffering. We live in a world colored by pain. Some pain is small and tolerable. Some pain overwhelms us and it feels like we are crushed by it. Some pain redefines our lives.

A New Reality

In 2012 on a Sunday evening my son and I were downstairs relaxing and my wife, who had been battling cancer, and cancer treatments, came downstairs. She was in a medical crisis from which she did not recover. In those two minutes my world changed.  Afterwards I found myself in a new reality and losing Ann rocked my world. For weeks I was in a state of shock and I struggled to find my feet in a different world. I had to grieve. Grieving was learning how to live in my new identity as Steve, instead of Steve and Ann.

In that process of interacting with someone in a grieving process I learned a few important lessons. Some folks were able to bless me in my grief. Some simply bumbled through and did not know how to interact with my new reality.

Those who blessed me most were those who could be present with me. They, like Job’s friends before they opened their mouths, comforted me by being with me and letting me know I was not alone.  Their words were not as important as their physical presence.  They sat with me.  They gave me their time.  They touched me, emotionally but also physically. They got me food, they took care of the space around me.

I also needed to feel free to feel what I felt. There is no program of steps to work through when you grieve. In my case I needed to cry. I needed to feel. I needed to know I was not creating problems for others with my sorrow.

In that light, one of the damaging things is when people would try to comfort me by telling me Ann was in a better place. I know, and knew then, that Ann was free of her suffering. She was at home. But Ann was only part of the community impacted by her death. I was not in a better place. I had lost the woman I had spent the majority of my life with. I knew my kids had lost their mother. It offered almost no comfort and it ignored my plight to tell me Ann was now ok. I knew that, but what I was grieving was my loss and the pain of being alone. When someone was unable to see my pain in those times they can offer real comfort by silently being with me and seeing me. That was wiped out by what I heard as “you can be ok now, your wife is ok.” I needed to honestly engage with the fact that I was not ok, and had to adjust to an entirely different reality of living without the one with whom I had shared my life.

Not Alone

So, if you are one who is connecting with someone in loss, my best guidance is to keep in mind these things:  communicating to the one who is grieving “You are not alone, and I am with you”; “You matter, and your loss is real. We can see Jesus in this time and He loves you.”

Lastly, I encourage all of us to see that Jesus has suffered for us and will suffer with us. In His time in the garden prior to his arrest Jesus endured suffering on our behalf. He has demonstrated his love and will be with us as we suffer in this life. In Hebrews 13:5 the author quotes Jesus as saying “I will never leave you or forsake you.” My greatest comfort is that I am held by my Savior. As his people are with me, He adds to my comfort.

Some passages that meant a lot to Steve during his initial grief include:

  • The story of Gethsemane (Matthew and Mark) This story proves Jesus’ love in spite of all the trials we go through
  • Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you”
  • Joshua 1 telling Joshua the same thing after Moses dies
  • Psalm 23

Additional Resources on Grief:

  • Michelle Horton
    January 22, 2020

    Perfect timing for you to post this for us down here in Tampa. Our community just tragically lost a student this week. Thank you for sharing.

    • RobinBarnes
      January 22, 2020

      So sorry to hear of your loss Michelle. I’m glad this was insightful. I will be praying for you and your community.