I was recently asked for counsel on how best to engage in pastoral care during a time of grief and loss. That’s never an easy thing to respond to. No one– not even pastors– ever really knows what to say in cases where someone has died. That’s especially true if the death was sudden or the person was young.
As I thought about it, I think the most important counsel I would have is simply to be present. Your presence matters– be there with them, weep with them. 90% of pastoral care is showing up. The other 10% is doing a whole lot of listening.
I ran across a quote a while back from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about death and mourning. I found it meaningful and insightful, and it may be helpful to some of you as you engage with people in their grief.
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer