As funeral directors, we were taught not to show emotions. As a pastor, though, you can’t help but feel emotions. The saints are your children, and they are hurting. When some members transitioned, I refused to embalm them because of my emotional ties with them. Sometimes I won’t even go to the funeral home because I don’t want to see the body until the time of the service.
When there have been crime victims, it is best not to address the incident. I prefer not to dwell on that too much or preach about the victim or the one who did the shooting. I preached a service for the victim of a murder/suicide without mentioning the name because emotions run high when you preach on the victim. I can preach a whole message and never mention the person. The best thing we can do is preach Jesus.
One of the main things a minister should not do is give false hope. Saying things like “I can see them in glory looking over the banisters of Heaven.” That’s one thing as a young pastor I had to learn the hard way. I’ve told our congregation that every day we actually preach our own funeral.
Consoling the bereaved calls for using Scriptures of comfort as well as personal experiences. I always use Scriptures when it comes to counseling the saints because saints are actually Bible-taught people.
I think every pastor should read the book, Maybe Dying Isn’t All That Bad, written by Bishop John Fonzer at least twice. It is an excellent book. Thanks, Death, You Did Me a Favor by Bishop Clifton Jones is also a great read.
I recommend reading On Death and Dying, by Elizabeth Ross; I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, by Brook Noel; and A Beginner’s Guide to the End, by B.J. Miller.
Listen. Those in bereavement desire someone to listen to them and not pass judgment as they listen. Listening spans generations and cultures. Pray and plan the grief encounter spiritually, emotionally, and financially before you meet those being in counseling. For long-term counseling, refer them to a Christian grief counselor.
When the person is unsaved, give them assurance that God is just and share with them their need for repentance before Him. If the person knows they are dying, emphasis should be on God’s care for their soul and His ability to care for their loved ones after they have died.
Imagine it is you receiving the bereavement counseling, what it is you do and do not desire to be said. Walk in your own experiences, be open and transparent. Above all, if you have not been healed, don’t try to heal others. Your spirit will bleed through.
Las Vegas NV
One lesson learned early on in my ministry is that each person deals with loss differently and there is no timeline for bereavement. It does help to have a close family or supportive friends and a great church, but you must avail yourself to the help that is offered, and often, people want to suffer in silence. As a pastor, you have to watch for that one who is often silent.
When you are dealing with someone who does not have much time to live, you must be gentle and let them learn to trust you. Let them know that you are there to help them offload any fears or guilt they are wrestling with as they face the end of life. Helping a person feel safe to open up to you and know that you will keep it confidential and that you can guide them into a prayer of repentance and forgiveness is a powerful and wonderful thing. We have baptized several and they have received the Holy Ghost just days or weeks before their death.
I sometimes ask them if they have any regrets, and lastly, if they have anything left on their bucket list they have not done and would like to do. One lady told me she regretted never using the fine china her husband had given her on their 25th anniversary, and she now realized that she should have not waited for a special guest but wished she had made a special meal for her family to eat on the china. I surprised her with a special dinner two days later with her family. They ate on that china and she cried with joy.
I simply tell the bereaved I’m available and that I’m praying for them. I never tell them I know how they feel because obviously, I don’t.
People that have come under hospice have already accepted the fact that they are dying. In my hospice chaplain work, I have to be open-minded with clients. I can’t use doctrine. I use the Scripture that to be absent from the body [is to] be present with the Lord. I tell people I believe when they draw their last breath they are in the presence of the Lord. Even if they are a horrible sinner, God is the final judge.
In hospice work, we have people dying every day. We wait a couple of days to call the family and we offer bereavement care for thirteen months. The reason we offer it for thirteen months is that it assures that they get through every anniversary and birthday.