Editors note: This article originally ran on the website of licensed marriage and family therapist Jonathan Decker. It is reprinted with permission.
In 2005 one of my BYU buddies lost his mother to terminal illness. My heart broke for him: I was close with my mom and struggled to comprehend what it would be like if she died. Although I wanted to be there for him, I found myself frozen into inaction, intimidated by the enormity of his loss. I felt inadequate in the face of it. Nothing I could say or do would take away the pain he was feeling. I didn’t know what he was going through by experience and therefore felt that I had no place to give advice or comfort. So, to my shame, I did nothing, leaving the consoling to his closer friends and family while I sympathized from a distance.
The next year my own mother unexpectedly passed away, and the reality of my friend’s pain took on a terribly immediacy. The tables were turned and I found myself on the receiving end of people’s awkward inability to approach the mourner. Perhaps they felt inadequate in the face of my loss. Maybe they thought that discussing anything “day-to-day” or “normal” with me might be insensitive. Whatever the reasons, the result was that I felt isolated when I most needed support.
People regularly asked my best friend how I was doing. He told them that they should ask me themselves and that I’d probably appreciate the connection. Still, many held back and it was a lonely time. With new understanding, I called my other buddy, the one whose mother had died the year before, to apologize for leaving him out in the cold when he needed me. We had a great conversation and came to the same conclusion: we didn’t need anyone to “make it better.” We just needed them to openly care. We needed to not feel alone.
It really doesn’t take much. Sometimes, after condolences are expressed, mourners need a laugh or to talk about something “normal.” It helps them to feel that their life will go on. Most importantly, remember that after the initial flood of support in the first few weeks and months, everyone else moves on while the mourner is often still grieving. They will feel that absence for the rest of their lives. This is not to say they’ll never feel joy or normalcy again. It’s just a reminder, for the rest of us, to check in once and a while. We will all experience the pain of loss. We can also experience the hope and love that comes when we “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing as well as . He is the co-host of on KJZZ-TV in Utah. His book, is from Cedar Fort Publishing. Jonathan reviews Hollywood films from a Latter-day Saint perspective at www.mormonsatthemegaplex.com. He is married with four children.