Some maybe unconventional ways to offer comfort to those who are mourning during Covid times

This is the second of two articles from Brenda Atkinson from her perspective as a chaplain at a funeral home. The first article focused on what’s happening at funeral homes now. This one offers some specific suggestions on how each of us can help comfort those who mourn.

By Brenda F. Atkinson
Continuing Care Coordinator
Thomas McAfee Funeral Home

Honoring Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” has certainly been challenging when the basic support systems of families are not available. Things grievers need when they have lost a loved one, a gentle touch, a genuine handshake or hug and the gathering of family and friends. How can we bring comfort? I would like to suggest just a few things for your consideration:

  • A personal phone call, text, or email to a family letting them know you are thinking of them and you are just checking in to see if there is anything they need.
  • There are three needs of the griever:
    1. To find the words for the loss,
    2. To say them
    3. To know they have been heard.
    So, just listen. They really are not ready for our advice.
  • Each year TMFH offers an ornament to the families that is engraved with the deceased name, birth year and death year. I have these for my parents and grandparents, and I place them on my tree every year. Suggest to the family that they may want to write down memories of their deceased love you. Memories become comforting as the days and years go by.
  • Send a card to the griever. You may also want to think about sending the children, preschool through high school, a card as well. Please do not forget the college student who may be back on campus, but their heart is still with the family at home.
  • A small group or Sunday School class may want to be in their individual cars as the family exists the Funeral Home or Church. I heard about a small group that did this and they flashed their lights as the family was exiting. I participated in something similar at a graveside service. Friends remained in their cars and a sound system was used and everyone was able to hear the music and speakers. The family stated they felt so supported.
  • Check with the Funeral Home to see what they are offering. Thomas McAfee implemented “Hugs from Home” which is a free program. You send the family a message via the website, we print it on a card and attach the card to a balloon which is then placed on the pew or chair to let the family know that people are thinking about them during the service.  The cards are then given to the family. Several churches in our area have encouraged members to take advantage of this opportunity. The families have responded favorably.
  • Churches can have, as part of a regular service, a time to recognize those who have died from the congregation. I attend Earle Street Baptist Church and our Pastor, Dr. Stephen Clyborne, does this each year on All Saints Sunday.  It is such a special time for our church. A candle is lit for each name called. We stop to remember and to honor by calling their name. It is good to hear the names.
  • A childhood friend’s husband died and members from their congregation gathered in their yard and sang the hymns of faith to the family. It was very meaningful to my friend.
  • Offer an online grief support group. This will help with the loneliness and isolation that some grievers are experiencing.
  • Have a drive by visitation. If the Funeral Home or Church has a covered drive through where the family members can stand or sit, and friends can drive through and speak to them or hand them a handwritten note.
  • Oh, we cannot forget the casseroles. During the pandemic you may want to order the meal. So many restaurants are struggling to stay in business and this way you can help the grieving family, the owners, and the employees of the restaurant!

Some of these suggestions are not our ordinary way of responding when there is a death. Most of us have never experienced a pandemic and we are learning as we go.  

There are many people grieving not only the death of a loved but the loss of a job, a relationship, and a dream. I encourage you to be light to those who are in the dark. I like how a Rabbi responded to his students when asked about when you know light has come? “We know light has appeared out of darkness when someone can look in the face of any human being and see the face of a sister or brother.”

The world is dark right now. So may the light of our Heavenly Father shine through us.

Brenda joined the staff of Thomas McAfee Funeral Home in Greenville in 2008 and serves as the Continuing Care Coordinator. She is a member of Earle Street Baptist Church.

She received a M. Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a BS degree from Southern Wesleyan University. Brenda has completed four units in Clinical Pastoral education and is endorsed as a Chaplain by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

She is certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). She served as Hospice Chaplain for three years and as minister of education to adults and singles for 15 years.

Brenda leads support groups for the grieving and speaks at churches and civic events.