Thursday, April 10, 2008


In a couple of hours I am to meet with a couple I’ve never met before. Their 18 year old son drove his car into the back of a parked flatbed and died at the scene two nights ago. He was a senior to graduate in a month. This family has no church, no preacher, etc. Mercifully, they do have dear friends who attend Memorial and we have been chosen to assist this family, school, and community by conducting the funeral services. So, young leaders, what does one say at this meeting?

First, I want you to know I’ve been blessed years ago by encountering such personal tragedy. Once again God is a “Yes” as I learned something ministers needed to know: how people feel in the center of stunning loss. Therefore, I pass what I regard as important factors along to you which I learned in the center of the pit.

1. The parents will hear of my desperate sympathy.

2. Their world has been destroyed.

3. Realize they can barely hear the simplest of words as their minds and hearts have taken a direct hit and they can barely function, let alone take in information.

4. Because you know they can’t hear, don’t expect response from many things you counsel. Some matters must be discussed, but don’t gage success of the meeting on your “connection” for a part of them is not in the meeting, although their bodies are.

5. I will share with them the day will come they will be okay. Right now they can’t envision such.
It will be important to share with them how life will go for the next few months:

  • They will look to see if it’s their son every time they see a car like his just to make sure theirs isn’t a dream.
  • Every holiday during the first year will make this death arise to its fullest pain again. The second year will begin to ease.
  • They will resent foolish bickering/complaining over nothing they overhear in checkout lanes and at work.
  • It will be important for them to not blame anyone/each other for this tragedy.
  • Finally, I will share with them the truth that God lost his son and the lights went out in His world for three days. But the third day carries hope.

The above can sound awfully sure about myself. To the contrary, it tears me up and breaks me open. I will fumble and sob and ache (I have in just writing this blog). God will say things to them I have not planned. Words will just come out of me….and you when you hit your hour to deal with such devastation. The main thing I want you to know, which they can’t understand at the moment, is God will work. Watch for God. He will work. He promises….II Cor. 1:18-20.


Marcy M. said...

Terry, there's no one who could better tell you how to counsel this family than you yourself. What you wrote captures exactly what I felt during my experience with loss. I think the perfect person has been chosen to comfort them.

Greg said...

The only thing I would add to this, having been a preacher for years and now a funeral director who is called on weekly to do these types of funerals, is to either ask people close to the family to share some of the really uplifting, funny stories about the young man, or to open the mic (so to speak) for those stories. We find it better to ask people in advance. Those stories bring a different angle of "life" to all that you are going to say. And I would agree with Marcy M that you are THE person for this assignment. You've walked as close to where they are as anyone I know with the tragedy in your family many years ago. If given the opportunity, you might even share with that family that story, just so they will know you're not just saying words. They will know you as a fellow struggler.

Keith Roberts said...

I agree. You are the best qualified to pour yourself into this family's life.

At Tulsa Workshop I happened across an old friend and former preaching school classmate who recently lost a daughter (28 years old, I think) to a failed lung transplant.

We talked a while and cried a little. He's an elder now in a Texas church, so I asked him, "How did your loss change the way you deal with grieving families?"

He said something like this: "Instead of giving advice or defending God, I show up to hug them and say, 'I love you.'"

johndobbs said...

Great post ... great comments following. Sitting in silence with the hurting is perhaps the best thing to "say" of all.

Matthew said...

This is great advice, and helpful.

Zac said...

The shortest verse in the Bible may be the most profound in moments like this....Jesus wept.

He weeps with us and for us in our moment of sorrow because he cares deeply for our loss and he is greived by our pain.

4:18 said...

never would have believed that the words i heard almost a year ago at my mothers funeral would still be so fresh in my mind. GOD spoke to our family that day thru the kind words spoken and good deeds done by those that grieved with us.

love on that family and let GOD do the rest! his power is made perfect in our weakness.

Darin L. Hamm said...

Thanks for this and all the comments.

Elaine Williams said...

This is a beautiful post, especially when such words of wisdom come from true experience. elaine

doug young said...

Very insightful. Thanks for the post.

Paula Harrington said...

Thank you for this. I hope you know how needed it was :)

Judith said...

Thank you for your comments. I have been doing what you have shared in your piece. I used to babysit a family's children. The wife lost her husband and two of her four kids in a car accident months ago this year. She is a dear person to me. It has helped to hear what you wrote. That I am doing it in a good way in the way you shared.

THank you.

Steve Puckett said...

Good thoughts bro. Ministry gets tougher with every year in this area, but I think that's because we've experienced more of real life ourselves and others' tragedies touch the heart strings of our own.


Bong said...

Thanks for sharing. I firmly believe God works even in the most desperate of times.It's so difficult though to see how while "in the moment". Just trust that God is faithful.

Amy said...

A friend shared this with me, and as a person who has grieved deeply I would like to offer this:

Sometimes the first holiday doesn't stink to the depth you feared and you feel guilty for not feeling miserable because every adviser around you told you that you would. Sometimes the second and third holiday around stings even worse than the first because it is finally clear that the grief will not be resolved in short order.

You can prepare yourself for the burn of Christmas morning, but you cannot prepare yourself for the burn of going through the Taco Bell drive thru because you won't remember until you get to the window that you were just there with your loved one a month before. I think it is those moments that tortured me the most that first year.

I really appreciate that you have offered this advice and I hope that my thoughts are more helpful than nuisance.