How to Comfort Someone Mourning
By: Noelle Kirchner
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. - Matthew 5:4
I hadn’t heard back as expected from a friend. I later learned that she was overwhelmed with loss. Her neighbor’s husband had suddenly passed away. The young couple had no children, but they did have a beloved pet. Unfortunately, the pet had slipped out of the house during the funeral arrangements for the husband and had been hit by a car. The pet was killed on impact, leaving the widow doubly grieved.
When my friend tried to comfort her destitute neighbor, all she could do was cry. After she left the house, she was beating herself up about it. In her eyes, she hadn’t been the support she had hoped to be. Instead, she felt broken in the wake of such tragedy too.
I quickly encouraged my friend. Simply crying with someone who is in pain can be a gift to them. Sometimes, there aren’t adequate words to speak. A hand to hold, a hug, or shared tears can be ministries themselves.
When I served as a hospital chaplain, I visited patients in a multitude of trying situations. The patients heralded from different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds. It would have been impossible to have the perfect word for everyone, though sometimes I felt the Holy Spirit provide one. What I could always provide, however, was a ministry of presence.
A ministry of presence involves emptying our own goals, judgments, and opinions; by doing so, we lay the foundation for a safe space and ensure that the interaction will not be about us. Instead, we provide a listening ear and gentle encouragement to those who are hurting. We allow ourselves to feel with them, and that sensitivity invites connection. In turn, that connection often communicates God’s comfort.
I remember visiting a middle-aged Hispanic woman who was dying of brain cancer. She was leaving behind her husband and two children. The hospital staff requested a chaplain visit because she was barely interacting with anyone. When I walked into her room, I found the same—she did not want to speak. Knowing she was Catholic, I tried softly singing a familiar hymn during one visit. She reached for my hand. From that point on, I went to her bedside and simply sang.
God indeed is with those who are mourning (Psalm 56:8). In our passage today, those who are mourning are well-aware of the world’s brokenness. They, like us, are awaiting God to make all things new. While the beatitudes have an eschatological reference, which means they pertain to the end of time, they are also a mark of Christian community in the here and now. Jesus offers us hope that would not be available otherwise; hence, we are blessed even in our mourning.
A friend of mine recently nursed her husband through a dangerous but necessary surgery. She swore she felt God sitting with her during the surgery. As a result, she came to know and appreciate God as Friend. We can help others draw closer to God too—not because we have the right words, but because we’re willing to accompany them through pain. Christ’s hope can equip us to serve and can shine through us as a lifeline to others. It’s as simple as an outstretched hand.
If you’re interested in more grief resources, I have written about pregnancy loss. Check out my article for iBelieve entitled “6 Essential Ways to Support a Friend after Pregnancy Loss” and “In the Event of Miscarriage: A Liturgy” from my website.
Rev. Noelle Kirchner, MDiv., believes we don’t have to live with full schedules and thin souls. A busy mom of three boys, she is passionate about making faith fresh and relevant. Noelle is a graduate of Princeton Seminary and an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served in churches for over ten years. She has written for places like the TODAY Show Parenting Team, Huff Post Parents, The Laundry Moms, and (in)courage. Her faith and family cable television show, Chaos to Calm, features parenting hot topics and has hosted two New York Times bestselling authors. Watch her episodes or sermons, connect with her on social media, and follow her blog by visiting her website, or receive her free devotional e-book.
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Originally published Wednesday, 27 July 2022.