What to say on your first visit
Help for church leaders as they support newly bereaved people.
Most people will appreciate a visit from the minister soon after a bereavement to offer their support and guidance. However, knowing how best to support the family during your visit, particularly if you don’t know them well, can be challenging.
Before the visit
- Try to visit as soon after the bereavement as possible, and take someone else along if possible who will be able to offer longer term support to the family.
- If you are contacted by the funeral director, make sure you take down all the details they have so that you are well prepared to meet the family and they don’t have to go over the details again.
During the visit
- Listening is more valuable than having the right thing to say. A simple “I’m sorry” is better than a thousand words.
- Don’t be embarrassed or feel awkward if there are periods of silence; your presence with them will be comforting.
- Don’t put any expectations on them as to when they may begin to feel stronger, let them set the agenda for grieving their loss.
- Try and learn what you can about the family so that you can plan a funeral service that they will feel comfortable with.
- Take time to write out the good points of the person’s life with the family; this can be used for the tribute in the funeral, and also provide a special time of remembering for the family.
- Don’t say that you understand how they feel unless it has actually happened to you.
- Allow them to grieve; don’t tell them to be strong, or try to answer all of their questions. Don’t be surprised if their grief has resulted in physical symptoms such as sleeplessness or nausea.
- Look out for ways that the church could practically support them in the months to come.
- Keep your visit short but return soon.