When Someone Dies

The news this past Sunday that Stuart Scott, a veteran journalist and ESPN sports commentator, passed away after a long battle with cancer is a reminder of how shocking and terrible death is. Scott was still a young man, only 49 years old, with plenty of life left to live. More importantly, he was a father to two young daughters who are now left to live life without their father.

Death is never easy but it is something everyone of us will experience and not just our own death or the death of someone very close to us. Everyone of us will eventually have a friend, co-worker, etc… who receives the heartbreaking news that someone they love dearly has died.

Real time! What do we do? There are not any trial runs for this. What we do next, how we respond is what we will do for better or worse. I’m saying this because in my experience many people still struggle with what to do when someone they know is now faced with this grief and suffering.

I don’t want to diminish the loss of any life but it is one thing when we are talking about the death of someone in their 80’s or 90’s who has lived a great life. While their is still grief for the family and friends of that person, there is reason for celebration too. Maybe their death is a relief in some way since at an elderly age, death likely means the individual is no longer suffering from ill heath. But when we are talking about the death of someone younger, such as the death of a child or the death of someone leaving behind young children (as in Stuart Scott’s case), there is only sadness, grief, and suffering.

There are some things that we can do that will help others through the process of grief:

  1. Say “I’m sorry!” Don’t say anything else. That is, don’t try to explain it, theologize it, or mitigate it with words. That will not work. There is nothing that we can say that will make the loss of a loved one any easier except by saying, “I’m sorry!” By saying this, you are letting your friend know that you sympathize with them and believe me, that means more than it may seem.
  2. Give time! I don’t really like the phrase “Time heals all wounds” because I’m don’t think it is true. Nobody “gets over” the loss of someone they love. However, people can learn to live with the grief and pain of someone’s death but that take time… a lot of time. It has been 12 ½ years since the death of my son and eleven years since the death of my younger brother. Both losses still hurt. But I have learned to live with each loss, which took time as in years. Don’t force those who have suffered a loss to get over it but allow them the time to learn how to live with the loss. It’s a process that may involve counseling at some point or participation in a support group but regardless, it’s a process that requires time and time that cannot be regulated by us.
  3. Remember! Throughout the process of grief there will be certain days that are harder than the others… the birthday of those who are lost, the anniversary of their death, holidays. Can you imagine what the next Father’s Day will be like for Stuart Scott’s children? Thanksgiving? Christmas? A simple phone-call or a card says “We remember!” And this is not just about remembering the person who died but remembering the people who still grieving in pain.
  4. Say a prayer! As a believer, I believe in prayer and so I believe it is important that we remember to pray for those who are suffering the loss of someone they love. There is always the question of if and when do we pray with them and ask them if we can pray for them. It’s a good question but there isn’t any right or wrong answer except to say that through our friendship and experience, we’ll gain the wisdom necessary to answer that question.
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4 responses to “When Someone Dies

  1. I concur wholeheartedly, and you have my deepest condolence and empathy. Praise and Glory to our Saviour Jesus Christ and God our Father.

  2. Please be careful saying that the person (or animal) is better off. I know this can be the case, but the mourners don’t need reminding. Yes, the loss of a pet is significant too, especially one who had been around longer than most friends and spouses.
    Also, please be mindful of the grandchildren at the funeral of the elderly. I have seen clergy be extremely nice to the children and ignore the grandchildren completely. It is often the grandchildren who are feeling the deepest loss since their grandparent might have been their source of food, only defender and the only person who loved them. Many clergy and older people don’t want to believe this, but it can be the case.
    Also, if you are clergy or a church leader who is officiating, please don’t use this an opportunity to ask publicly or privately if the grandchildren if they are attending church and, if so, which one. They may not be attending in order to save their faith or may be attending a different denomination but can’t tell their parents since all hell could break loose. Privately asked could still mean that the clergy or lay person won’t keep quiet about an honest but disliked answer. Too many younger people today feel like churches don’t want them and aren’t sure about anyone’s confidentiality. Meanwhile, clergy or the lay officiant represents the faith first and foremost. Their actions either show that pastoral care exists or it doesn’t. For most of the younger generation, this is the first and possibly only time in their life that they will see if it exists and what it looks like.

  3. Pingback: Recommended reading | Down the Road

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