“Grief and Loss,” Counseling Resources (2020)
“Grief and Loss,” Counseling Resources
Grief can be an overpowering emotion. Almost everyone experiences it at some point in life. Death is part of God’s plan of happiness, but even with that understanding, many people find it difficult to grapple with the emotions that surround losing someone they love. Additionally, death is not the only source of grief; other kinds of loss invoke feelings of grief, such as losing a job, a relationship, health, and so on. Grief is a normal response to loss and an emotional transition on the path to joy, not an expression of weakness or a lack of faith in God or His love.
Those who mourn need time to grieve their losses, and they need supportive friends and family to be with them through that experience. The amount of time needed for grief to run its natural, healthy course varies from person to person, depending on several factors. Was the loss sudden or agonizingly anticipated? In the case of death, how emotionally close was the mourner to the deceased? How much did the person depend on who or what was lost? These and other elements increase our understanding of how to help someone who is grieving.
Some people might need to avoid things that remind them of their loss, while others might find comfort in memories. Some might need time away before they feel able to socialize or attend church meetings and activities, while others might crave social connection immediately. Everyone is different, and individual paths forward will vary.
As you minister to someone struggling with grief, show love first and foremost. Statements like these may help you communicate empathy:
“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I care about you.”
“You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, but I’m here to listen if you do.”
“It’s OK to have different feelings from one day, or one moment, to the next. There’s no one right way to feel. Just let yourself experience emotions as they come.”
“I’m really sorry you have to go through this.”
As you minister to someone struggling with grief, consider asking questions like the ones below in a kind and loving manner to help you understand the person’s concerns, needs, and circumstances.
How are you coping?
When you’re having a good day, what seems to make that positive difference?
Where do you go for emotional support?
What specific things have people said or done that have helped you? What hasn’t been helpful?
Additionally, it can help to be aware of the stages of grief. Most people pass through five emotional stages when they grieve: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and adjustment. These can occur in any order, and some may be skipped or may be repeated more than once. Each stage in the grieving process may require a different approach by those who minister. Here is a basic description of each stage:
Denial: Denial is typically the first stage of grief. Individuals experiencing denial may deny what has happened, go numb, or experience shock. When a person experiences this stage, it’s often best to talk empathetically or spend time just sitting quietly together.
Anger: In this stage, individuals may direct anger at God, themselves, or other people around them. Consider encouraging the person to keep a journal of those angry feelings. He or she may decide to destroy the journal after moving past this stage, but for the time being, it can provide a safe outlet for anger.
Bargaining: Someone in the bargaining stage may try to bargain with God and ask “what if” questions (such as “What if I promise to treat the person better?” or “What if I go to the temple every week?”). Individuals often feel guilty about their inability to protect the person who has passed away or to prevent the misfortune that occurred. When someone experiences this stage in the case of death, it may help to ask what she or he believes the deceased person would want for the individual going forward in life.
Depression: In this stage, individuals may feel emptiness, helplessness, hopelessness, and possibly a loss of interest in participating in everyday life. They may begin to withdraw from others. If someone remains in this stage for an extended period (four to six weeks), he or she may need to be referred to a grief support group or mental health professional.
Adjustment: In this stage, individuals gradually adjust to their new normal. Their emotions stabilize, and they learn to cope with the grief. It may help to reassure them that adjustment is OK and that, in the case of death, their departed loved one would want them to seek happiness.
As you seek to help the person, consider the following information:
Help the person know that it’s OK to grieve. Some may perceive grief as an expression of weakening faith, but it’s important that individuals allow themselves to grieve. Discussing how even Jesus felt grief can help members understand that it doesn’t indicate a lack of faith (see John 11:32–36).
Help the person recognize that everyone grieves in his or her own way. There is no single way to handle loss, and everyone will respond differently. The person shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling or not feeling a certain way.
Communicate empathy (and continue to do so long after the loss).
Pray for guidance about what to say. Comforting someone can be intimidating, but it’s most often better to reach out and say something than to say nothing. It’s important that people who are grieving know you care and want to support them.
Remember to be sensitive. Some well-intended statements may not be perceived as empathetic to those who are grieving. The following examples may be more hurtful than helpful:
“It’s part of God’s plan.”
“At least …” (“At least they didn’t suffer,” “At least you can date other people now,” “At least now you can find a job you actually like,” and so on).
“I had a similar experience.”
“Things will get better with time.”
“You should …” or “You will …”
“He [or she] is in a better place.”
Instead, you might:
Say, “I don’t know what to say other than to let you know you’re loved by many, including me.”
Say, “I am praying for you.”
Let the grieving person know through your words and actions that you’re thinking of him or her. Reaching out can be as simple as sending a text.
Spend time with the grieving person.
Listen. Giving advice or talking to the person isn’t the only way to help. If you listen and let the person express his or her feelings, the gesture will often be well received and beneficial. Simply sitting with the individual is a nonverbal way of communicating support. Just listening can be difficult because you may feel you aren’t doing enough to fix the pain, but listening itself is a helpful and supportive action.
Don’t react. As individuals go through the emotional stages of grief, they may say or do things that are out of character. Be patient, and recognize that such behaviors often indicate where the person is in the grieving process.
Maintain support after the loss. Encourage Church leaders, ministering brothers and sisters, ward members, and friends to continue their efforts to be emotionally supportive long after the incident occurs. Grief is a process that can take months and even years.
Be alert for suicidal comments and behaviors. If a grieving person talks about suicide, always take it seriously. See the Suicide page on Counseling Resources. If you are worried about someone’s safety, immediately contact a local emergency medical service or your Family Services office (where available). Church leaders may also contact the Church help line for assistance with this issue. Visit suicide.ChurchofJesusChrist.org or the Suicide section in the Gospel Library app to find free help lines around the world and resources for helping individuals struggling with a suicide-related crisis.
In the case of the death of a loved one, the grieving process may include helping the family with a funeral or burial service. Planning and attending a funeral can be difficult for individuals who are grieving. It’s important to be sensitive to their needs as you give support and comfort. Find information on administering funerals and other related services in section 29.6 of General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (ChurchofJesusChrist.org). The following are a few additional guidelines to keep in mind:
Funeral services are meant to honor the life of the deceased and to help those who are grieving find comfort and peace. A funeral is often an essential part of moving forward in the grieving process. As such, it’s important to be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the individuals or family members who are grieving. Discussing the plan of salvation and the power of Jesus Christ to provide comfort can be helpful. It’s also important to spend adequate time honoring the deceased person and remembering his or her relationships and positive character traits.
Grieving individuals may or may not choose to speak or participate in the service. This is a personal choice for them to make.
In any remarks you make at the funeral, remember to communicate empathy. Encourage others who are speaking (Church leaders, ministering brothers and sisters, neighbors, and so on) to be sensitive in their remarks as well.
Finances may be a concern for the funeral and after. If an individual or family has lost their provider, they may worry about finances moving forward. Seek spiritual direction as you consider how Church assistance or programs might address some of these concerns.
Depending on the situation, family members and other close friends may also be struggling with grief, particularly if the grief is related to the loss of a loved one. Consider the information under “Help the Individual” for each family member and close friend.
Even if grief is affecting just one family member, you might check with the family and see how others are doing. They may need support in helping their struggling family member.
When appropriate, consider asking ward leaders or other trusted individuals to provide continuing support. Request the individual’s permission before discussing the situation with others.
Encourage the person’s extended family and ministering brothers or sisters to be attentive. The grieving process can take a long time, and the person will likely need extra support for a while. That support must continue long after the funeral.
Some individuals may benefit from attending a support group. Groups can be especially helpful for individuals who feel that nobody understands their situation or how they feel. Some groups can be accessed through social media. Family doctors, mortuaries, and hospice organizations may also be able to help you identify support groups in your area. Family Services doesn’t offer support groups for grief, but you might consult with your local Family Services office (where available) to get references or recommendations.
Help the person get professional help if necessary. Grief can be a complicated emotion, and someone who is grieving may need help from a professional. See the Counseling Resources page on mental health.