Job speaks for most of us when we consider death. "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs
up like a flower and withers away....At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots
will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put
forth shoots like a plant. But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more....If a man dies, will he live
again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come....You change his countenance and send him
What is it like to lose a loved one, whether by death or divorce? It is like an amputation. There is intense unbearable
pain. There is mental anguish over the loss of a part of the person. The nerves still seem to extend into and out of that
lost body part as though still there. There are the times of forgetfulness when the subconscious mind starts to refer to or
use that part of them. That just insults the loss even more. The mental anguish cannot be described. A part of the person
with the loss dies forever. There will never ever be any way to replace that lost part of the person. An artificial part or a
part grafted on from someone else may be possible, but it can never and will never be that part which was lost. All there is
left are memories.
What are the memories like? For those left behind because of death, the bad memories are sifted out and the good
ones are left to grace the remaining years. For those left behind because of divorce, usually the good memories are sifted
out and the bad memories remain. When loss is due to death, the question is, "Why did providence work in this way?".
When loss is due to divorce, the question is, "What did I do wrong?".
When someone is left alone due to death, there is still insurance, furniture, and probably house and car left behind to
help with their sustenance. When someone is left alone due to divorce, there is no insurance, numerous legal fees, and
maybe part of the furniture and half a house and car if anything at all. With loss due to death there is dignity. With loss
due to divorce there is shame.
All in all, the feelings of loss are very similar. There is much that you can do to help these people, for there are
hundreds of such losses every day. What can you do?
You will receive a phone call about a loss probably from a relative, possibly a close friend. Go to the home of the
family as soon as possible. The closer you are to that person, the sooner you should go. The time of day or night does
not matter. The person suffering the loss is definitely not sleeping. What do you say when you arrive?
You do not say, "It was for the best; at least s/he won't have to suffer any more now," or "Well, we all have to go some
time." Or in the case of divorce, you do not say, "S/He wasn't worth it anyway," or "Forget him; there's better fish in the
sea," or "Now you've got all the freedom you've been wanting." The person may feel any one of these ways, but you do not
know, and now is not the time to find out whether or not they agree. Don't take the chance of offending them or upsetting
them even more. Just say, "I'm so very sorry." If they want to bring any of these responses up later, let them be the ones
to do so, and then be supportive of them. They are the emotional leaders now. Be sensitive to them, listen to them, and
be sustain them.
Give them a hug. If they cling to you, keep hugging them as long as they like. Then they will invite you to sit down. Sit
with them if you can, and hold their hand. If there is someone sitting next to them, kneel on the floor in front of them. If they
do not wish to talk (remember, they are in the lead), just sit and mourn with them. After a few minutes, find a seat
somewhere else in the room to allow others present an opportunity to continue reaching out to the person with the loss.
In case of a death, ask the family if they have contacted a minister yet. If they haven't, ask if they'd like you to. You
can offer to call someone they know or your own minister. If they haven't contacted one by now, they will be happy to have
your assistance with this. Discussions of the funeral will come up intermittently during the conversation. They will talk
about it in general terms probably until the minister arrives.
Intermittently as you converse, the new widow (or closest relative) will think of some other relative to call with the news.
Then they will sit back down with you.
The general conversation of those present will fluctuate. Most people will follow the lead of the person closest to the
one who died. Their emotions will likely fluctuate. There will be talk of good times with the person, and talk of how they
died, a little laughter, and tears. Laughter is used by authors of tragedy such as Shakespeare, and is called "comic relief,"
in order to release the tenseness of the moment. The human mind just cannot cope with intense irreversible tragedy
without some kind of relief. Fainting is one way a mind short circuits. Laughter is still highly emotional and lets out some of
the pent-up feelings. A little laughter sprinkled in the conversation of mourners is common and acceptable. At any rate,
follow the conversation and emotions of the one(s) with the loss. Mourn with them, reminisce with them, laugh with them,
cry with them.
The survivor may suddenly decide to do some housework or dishes or mow the lawn or something to try to get some
sense of "normalcy" back into their lives. It is also a good way to release physical and emotional stress. Don't try to stop
them. If they decide they need to pick out some clothes to bury the person in, ask them if they'd like to describe the outfit
for you so you can go get them and set them aside until needed at the funeral home. Of course, if they insist on doing it
themselves, abide by that.
There will be a few people who will refuse to admit their loved one died. This occurs usually where that person was
young and died suddenly such as in an accident. They may go do that person's laundry and then iron their clothes so
they'll have them when they get back home. Or they may fix their favorite food. Or they may get out some blankets to keep
them warm out beside the road all alone. Do not jump in and tell them they're acting irrationally and have to face it. They
are trying to keep that person alive in their minds as long as they can, living in their fleeting shadow before the sun
After a little while, you may say things like, "We all want to keep them alive just a little longer, don't we?" or "We wish
we could keep that person here." or "We keep wanting them to come walking through that door, don't we?" They may not
acknowledge what you are saying, but they will store it, and probably repeat those same words later.
By the next day, if the person is still denying it, start talking about the funeral. They will at first tell you there will be no
funeral because the person is not dead. You may reply that there is going to be a funeral, and if the person is alive and
well, s/he is going to be there. Or even if s/he is not alive and well, they'll still be there. So the survivor wouldn't want to
pass up the opportunity to say goodbye. Also, other family members will be there, and they will need their encouragement.
Finally, if they are still denying it, tell them that everyone is angry because their loved one died. It is okay to be angry.
It doesn't mean you are angry at the person, only the event. You can also start recalling with them past times in the life of
the person who died. By referring to these good times and the fulfilling life they had, they will hear the person spoken of in
the past tense, yet in a good way. And you can talk of heaven. You can tell about people living on, only in another world.
You can tell them everyone may be able to all live together again someday in heaven. Usually by the second day, the
person going through denial will begin to acknowledge it and being at last to cry.
This all leads to difficult questions. There are any number that will be asked during this mourning period, whether it be
before the funeral or after. In Appendix B are some of them, with brief answers. Please turn over there now and read
them. They are extremely important to this chapter and your understanding of it.
You may wish to bring a song book and Bible with concordance and leave them in the car for use when details of the
funeral are brought up. They will probably easily think of one favorite song but have difficulty remembering others. If that
is the case, you may volunteer to go get your song book and look up in the back where the songs are listed by subject and
read other possible songs to them from that list. They may also mention a favorite Bible passage and may not know where
it is located. You could help them find it with your concordance. Of course, if the minister is there, he can do all this. But
you may wish to come prepared anyway.
They will need to decide what clothes to bury their loved one in. This is so difficult. Rather than go through their
clothes, try to help them recall a favorite outfit of the person and go get it for them. Then place it behind a door or on a
bed until needed. It will be several hours before the funeral home asks for the clothes.
During the two or thee days before the funeral, make yourself available to the person. If there are a lot of relatives and
closer friends at their home, a phone call or brief visit would be sufficient. However, if there are not, you should try to be
with the one with the loss as much as possible, taking breaks away from the home when other people come by. Part of that
time you may ask them if they'd like to go to your home. You may offer to spend the first few nights with them, or invite
them to spend the nights with you and go back over to their own home during the day. Whatever, make sure they do not
spend the night alone until they feel ready to try it alone.
If there are many relatives from out of town and not enough bedrooms, you could offer your home. Also during this
time of stress, and of making intricate arrangements for the funeral, the family is not much interested in grocery shopping
and cooking. So bring in a few dishes to the family. Bring paper plates and cups so there will be fewer dishes to wash.
Bring by a large coffee maker or ice tea maker for family and friends stopping in. Wash dishes occasionally if needed.
Perhaps stay around to be a "hostess" for people stopping in to offer their condolences. Answer their phone for them if it
becomes extremely busy. Again, a lot depends on whether there is a large group or only a couple of people present. In
some ways, more will need to be done if there are fewer supportive people.
There will be a need to take clothing to the funeral home, to select a casket, and pick out flowers. The close relative of
the one who just died will have to leave home to make these arrangements for the most part. Be there. Provide
transportation if necessary. There may or may not be someone around to help with this. If there are no relatives coming to
help, you will be needed to help with this. Hold them close as they walk into the room full of caskets to make the inevitable
The funeral director will ask for information for the death certificate which must be made out immediately ~ birth and
death date, birth location, parents, occupation. There will be questions about paying for the funeral, questions involving
insurance papers possibly stored in a bank safety deposit box, or veteran papers possibly stored in a box somewhere in
the top of a closet. There may be benefits they do not realize they have. What about social security number and
benefits? This will be a time of needing statistical data and yet the worst time in the world to force the mind to think on such
things. The minister and funeral director will be patient and supportive, but a close friend or relative needs to be nearby
It might be a good idea to contact the family doctor if s/he does not already know. In some cases stress becomes so
great a close relative might not be able to attend the funeral without some kind of medication. Also a relative's own
personal health may be in jeopardy at such a time, especially if there is a history of heart trouble, high blood pressure, etc.
By the second day there will be times when the family member(s) will want to go to the funeral home and view the body,
possibly sitting in a room with it for a short or extended period of time. Be available to go along or meet them there if they
prefer to be there alone. You may sit in another room to give them privacy, but still be available for someone to "lean on"
also. At this difficult time, talk to them of heaven. Talk to them of the place with no pain or tears. Talk to them of seeing
the person again some day. Talk to them of your own experiences. Give them a comforting poem. Quote a Bible verse to
them. Tell them God will never leave them alone. Sit with them quietly while they weep. Sing to them softly of heaven.
On the day of the funeral, be prepared for a busy day, a stressful day, a day you can be supportive. Depending on
how close you are to the family, how large the family is, how many friends the family has, you may wish to go back over to
the home that morning. If there are plenty of relatives newly arrived, say hello, ask if there is anything you can do (they will
know by now that you mean it), and then leave them alone.
If the family belongs to a church, someone from the church should contact them, offer the church facilities, and tell
them they will have a meal prepared for the family after the funeral. Then, depending on how many intimate friends and
relatives will be going to the meal, someone should contact other church members to bring food. This is common practice
among churches, however should at least be mentioned here.
If the family does not belong to a church, do not hesitate to ask the day before the funeral if anything has been
arranged for a meal to their knowledge. If they say that just they and a few relatives will get together in their home and
nothing in particular has been planned, ask if you can help. If they say everything has been worked out, possibly in
embarrassment, you could make up a couple of dishes to take by their home just after the funeral.
At that time look around. If the family is not noticing you very much, just leave your dishes, give them a hug and quietly
slip out. On the other hand, if they begin introducing you around, it will be their way of saying, "Please stay after all." In
that case, go in the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and help get the meal together for them. Keep fresh drinks made. And
as soon as everyone has eaten, clean up, gather up the dishes you brought by, hug them, tell them you'll call them later,
Make sure the close family member(s) is not left alone the night of the funeral. Then progress from there at the speed
comfortable to the person. They may want to start spending the night alone right away or wait a couple weeks. After the
funeral is usually the point of the Big Letdown. Everyone goes home. Do not leave the person alone completely. Yes,
they need to ease back into the everyday life, but don't allow them to do it completely alone. Invite them to go shopping
with you, to go get a hamburger together, to come to your home on holidays.
Anniversaries will be extremely difficult. The day after the death, the week after, the month after, and the yearly
anniversary. Also anniversaries of the lost loved one's birth date and marriage are difficult. Often the first anniversary of
the death is emotionally harder than when the death actually occurred. Sometimes people have their emotions under
artificial control so they can think clearly to make important decisions as fast as they need to be made. Therefore, the
pent-up emotions may not come out until the first anniversary, and at that time they may come out like the flood gates just
were opened. You may be needed once again at that time.
Someone, perhaps you, should be sure to keep tabs on how the family left behind is getting along financially. If a
woman is left behind, her income is likely to go far below that which was available to her with two incomes, and hers usually
the lowest. This is sometimes a devastating blow. Now she must add to her burdens the question, "how will we survive?"
Can she support the children if there are any? Will she be eating properly. Will all her utilities remain on? Will she be able
to buy gas for her car and keep the insurance up? How many jobs will she have to hold down, and what types? What will
she have to go through to support herself? Find out and help her work things out.
Was the one who died or left a parent of young children? They are as affected as anyone. Often they blame
themselves for the parent's leaving. They have terrible fears whenever the surviving parent leaves, that they will die and
never come back. Their fears are confusing and unceasing.
After the parent is gone, they will need someone to provide a substitute role model for that parent. Especially boys
miss their father's role modeling, and girls their mother's role modeling. If you can help with this, invite them over to your
home occasionally and do things with them. Let them know you are available to talk to any time they need you. Of course
tell their remaining parent this so they can be aware of this help. They are very aware that children can go astray without a
role model. Also, sometimes have the children over to your home just to give the parent a chance to be alone without all
the burdens occasionally.
Along with all these things, pray for and with the person(s) with the loss. If you cannot pray aloud with them, then write
a prayer and give or mail it to them. Pray for them when you are alone, and be sure to tell them you are. Tell them as
often as they need to hear it. Before the funeral and after, perhaps for years to come. For the person with the loss of a
loved one, whether by death or divorce, will feel the loss and pain for the rest of their lives. Yes, they will laugh again some
day, and play again, and perhaps have another parent, mate, or child again some day. But the pain of the loss will never,
ever, ever go away.
The day of a final divorce declaration will be different from a funeral. There will be no flowers, no soft reassuring
music, no talk about a wonderful past life, no talk about seeing them again someday in love, and probably not any friends
to gather with the person. This does not have to be. In fact, it should not be. In many cases the death of a marriage to a
loved one is far worse than the death of a person through circumstances that could not be helped. Between the date of
death and the funeral is usually about three days. Between the date of the divorce announcement and the day in court is
usually about 300 days. There is still the crying, the legal difficulties, the confusion, the physical stress, the anguish. And
added to all this is embarrassment and shame.
Go back and read all the above suggestions on how to help a person get through the loss of a loved one by death,
and apply it to helping a person get through the loss of a loved one by divorce. Why not go to the person's home and
comfort them on the court-hearing day? Why not bring them a little bouquet of flowers? Why not lend them a tape of
spiritual songs and Bible readings? Why not offer to spend the first few nights with them or let them come spend the night
with you? Why not, the day of the court hearing, have a few supportive friends go with the person and then go back to a
meal in their home? Why not share Bible verses, and weep with them, and talk to them about God's love which never
ceases as well as the love of their friends?
Some people will say that they just cannot help people going through death or divorce because it is too painful for
them. This is true for everyone. But can the family this is happening to say, "I just can't face it, so I won't"? Of course not.
They have to muster up courage they never thought they had. They have no choice. And you can too. In fact, it could
possibly help you face the loss of your loved ones some day. So often the things we tell other people, the advice we give
them, are the same things we will need to hear ourselves in the same circumstances. So you will learn what to tell yourself
when it happens to you. Try. Just try.
God will give you strength. God will help you know what to say. God will help you sense what you are needed for.
God will bless your efforts. And probably at no other time of life can the love of God be poured out to such receiving hearts
as now. They, and everyone, deserve to feel that undying love. And you deserve to show it to them, Christian lady,
Loss of Loved Ones