Loss is a part of life, and so is grief. Most young adults will find themselves with the loss of relationships, job opportunities, test grades, and other age-related issues. However, some young adults will have tragic losses, such as the death of a parent, potential mate, or friend. Sometimes, these losses are expected and anticipated. At other times, these losses can be completely unexpected—from a car wreck to someone committing suicide.
When loss comes our way, we don’t know how to walk with someone through it gracefully. Grief isn’t a topic we talk a lot about in life or within the church. In one sense, grief can be isolating for the person who lost someone—especially when the people around them continue with life and move on with day-to-day living, which is good and right for them to do. The question becomes—how do we walk with a young adult who is dealing with the grieving process?
A few things to know about grief are that the first six months are all about the business of death and taking care of all the things that need to be done, paid, sorted through, and handled. The second six months are about the business of grief since all the “things” are handled, to some extent, and what is left is grieving, missing, and remembering the person they loved. Anniversaries, holidays, and celebrations are more difficult than anyone can imagine, and finding words to express the grief may not be possible.
Secondly, grief expresses itself differently in each person. Just as God made each of us unique, so is the grieving process for each person. Science tell us that people may have “fuzzy” brains, memory loss, and may be easily distracted. Emotionally, people may experience intense emotions, higher levels of anxiety, and tears may come much more often than desired. Physical manifestations may come in the form of hives, panic attacks, sleeplessness, and more. Grief is going to express itself in various ways. As we walk with young adults, we need to listen, pray with students, and point them to Scripture, but we should also direct them to their doctor for help with some issues.
Finally, in Romans 12:15, Paul instructs the church to rejoice with people when they rejoice but also to weep and mourn with those who are grieving. We need to embrace those who are hurting, hurt with them, cry with them, and walk with them through the process and to Jesus.
Here are a few suggestions to make grieving with someone a little more comfortable:
- Practice the ministry of presence. Understand that those who are grieving need space, but they also don’t want to be alone. Space is one thing, but grief from a death means someone has left and is not coming back. The grieving person is lonely but probably doesn’t have the words to say that.
- Be constant in their world. You don’t have to move into your grieving friend’s house or dorm room, but let them know you are there for the journey.
- Ask about their loved-one who died and how they celebrated holidays and everyday life. Someone who is grieving wants to talk about their loved one and keep their memory alive. They want to talk at the right times and with the right people.
- Instead of saying, “Call me if I can help,” say “I’m headed to the store, what am I bringing you back?”Most of the time, people don’t know how to ask for help when grief is hovering overhead.
- Help them celebrate little victories, such as sleeping through the night, catching up on the laundry, doing homework, and paying the bills. While they are grieving, the smallest things can appear overwhelming, but every victory is significant.
- Offer to be present for the big things and the little things in their life. From celebrations to promotions to ball games and everything in between, there is now a space that is void, and you may be the person that fills the space. You will never replace who is gone, but you can fill a void.
- Check-in and listen without sharing your own opinion. Let them be and process. Point them to Jesus but keep your opinions to yourself.
- Don’t try to replace the person who died but do try to fill in the gaps. You can’t become the new mom, sister, or friend, but you can become chosen family who stands in the gap.
- Pray with them and pray for them and let them know you are praying. Send a text, drop a note, stop by to hug their necks, and let them know that you are taking their grief and hurt straight to the throne of God for the peace only He can provide.
These are only a few things that I personally found to be helpful through my own grief journey. If you were to ask anyone who walked this road, they will have their own story and their own suggestions for help. More than anything, as the church, we need to walk with people through the process of grief. A process that can take years to heal from, a process that requires work and tears and finding a new normal. The waters of grief can be treacherous for anyone, but young adults don’t expect it as a part of their journey. May each of us get comfortable enough to walk through the waters with those we love and minister to on a daily basis.
Dr. Beth Masters works with college students at Mississippi College where she is the Director of Christian Life and Ministries. She also serves as a ministry-based faculty member at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the area of Collegiate Ministry. Beth loves young adults, baking, and coffee.