The local youth and young adult community I serve in received tragic news earlier this week that one of its young adults, who was heavily involved in parish and diocesan youth and young adult ministry, died at the young age of 21.
It is always difficult for a community to lose a young life. Having been part of youth and young adult ministry for so many years, I have experienced the need to serve and be with those that are hurting from the loss.
At times, I don’t know what to say or do. At times, it’s been awkward. I want to console and say the right thing to help those that are hurting feel better. But most of the time, my words never cut it. I’ve come to the conclusion that words are not all that helpful in situations like this.
As our church community works through this difficult period of time, I am reminded that there are certain things I can do to help while the community mourns the loss of someone close to them. Pastoral care of the church community is one of the essential tasks of being a ministry leader. It’s not always easy, but it is necessary.
These are the 3 strategies that I am trying to practice right now to help those dealing with the death of a loved one:
- Drop everything. No meeting, no planned event, no nothing is more important than being with those that have just experienced loss. The church plays an important role during these major life moments. Death is one of those life events that require immediate attention and move to the top of yours and my priority list. I know that not everything can be changed, but we must try. One colleague I minister with cleared his calendar this week and changed his flight reservations so that he could tend to his community.
- Be present. No words or gifts or flowers can replace your presence with those that are experiencing the loss of a loved on. Just show up. Whether you know the person who passed away makes no difference. If you have a relationship with those that are hurting, it is important to make an effort to be present. Attend the memorial service or funeral. Be willing to visit with the family at their home. Hug and comfort them. Two friends of mine never met the young adult that passed away, but out of a show of support and care for their friends and the community, they are planning on being present at the funeral. That speaks volumes.
- Be attentive to those that find themselves in the position of supporting others. There are always people in situations like this one who, by choice or chance, find themselves trying to support and help others that are in pain. Often, these individuals are experiencing loss and deep pain as well, but are focused on helping others in need. These care givers need just as much support as those they are trying to support. Be on the look out for these individuals. Approach them and allow them to grieve. Walk along side them and be present to them. At some point, whether that is today, a week from now, or a month from now, they will break down and need a shoulder to cry on.
Question: How do you support your church community when they experience death in their lives?