Dear Fr. Joe: How can I help … my friend, coworker or neighbor who is in mourning?
Losing someone we love is such a painful thing, and your desire to help someone in a time of loss can be absolutely life-changing for them. I’ve had a lot of experience with people who are grieving the death of a loved one, and think I can be helpful here.
First, I’m a big fan of this one: wait a bit after the funeral. Most people experience a lot of presence and support right around the time of their loss and for a couple of weeks after the funeral. To be most helpful, I find it important to start checking in a month or two after the funeral. Give them a call or a visit and let them know you are thinking about them, and that you just want to check on them and see how they are doing. Be faithful and consistent in being with them; going for a walk together, eating out, etc.During your time together, try not to confuse emotional manipulation with support. This one can be tough to distinguish, but I think it comes down to your goal in being there. Don’t try to make the person cry or use their grief as a time to work through your own pain; just be open to the fact that they may suddenly want to talk about their deceased loved one and cry about it. Be ready for that, and make sure they know you are ready to hear about their loved one or talk about something else entirely. I summarize this attitude in St. Paul’s words “Be all things to all people.” Be the servant of the one in grief.
... the poor person I walk/drive by on my way to work?
I unintentionally make some people very angry with my attitude on this and, as is always the case, I want to be clear that I could be wrong, but here is how I try to help in these situations: if I can, I talk with them and give them my help.
I know, I know – everyone is worried about supporting a scam, but my attitude on that is formed a bit by St. Jane DeChantal. When one of her workers came to her to complain about poor people using trickery to get in line twice for food handouts, she pointed out to the worker that she does the same thing to God and he never refuses her. I liked that, and I apply it to my efforts to help the poor. I don’t recall any point in Scripture where Jesus tells us we will be judged on whether we were scammed by the poor or not, but I know of a few where he points out we will be judged on if we helped those in need.
Have food and/or water ready for them so they know you were thinking of them. Get a list of the local charities together to help them get long-term help. If they just want to talk for a few moments, take the time to listen to them. Help them remember their dignity by the way you love them.
I’m so glad that so many have written about numerous things they see and want to help with and these were, by far, the most common things I’ve been asked. I praise the Lord for the generous and beautiful hearts of you, my readers, and I pray God bless our efforts to be his light in the world!