How to comfort a grieving person who lacks faith

‘Stay close together’

The Rev. Pat Rush, pastor, Visitation Catholic Church, Kansas City, Mo.: St. John of the Cross, the great 16th-century Catholic mystic, advised people experiencing loss and sadness to “stay close together.”

He could have advised that they pray the rosary or talk about the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead or some such thing. But he didn’t. Instead he advised holding one another, carrying one another and walking with one another through that grieving.

Today that is often called the ministry of presence.

The ministry of presence doesn’t require the recitation of creedal beliefs or theological teachings. Rather, it requires a caring, listening heart.

The ministry of presence requires a willingness to spend time with another in a nonjudgmental and nondirective manner.

The ministry of presence requires simply crying with others in their sorrows and rejoicing with them in their good times. It is the ministry of love and concern for another, fully respecting what the other both believes and doesn’t believe. It is the ministry of “staying close together” with another.

This ministry of presence is very possibly the best way to comfort anyone who is grieving, regardless of the individual’s faith.

One’s grief equals love

The Rev. Duke Tufty, pastor, Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, Mo.: The first thing I would do is assure the person grieving that their deceased loved one is doing just fine. There is no reason for fear, concern or worry about their well-being.

All of their problems, ailments and struggles are gone, and they are definitely not in the presence of a little red man with horns and a pitchfork. Hell as a possible destination for afterlife doesn’t exist. It is an elaborate myth.

The second thing I would tell them is their grief is an expression of the great love they have for the deceased.