One relationship situation that can be a challenge for a lot of us is relating to someone grieving the death of a loved one. Before we delve into this issue, I want to share someListener Responses to prior episodes

I find that the study of relationships and people is a life long journey I am glad to be on. Although sometimes it is rather depressing, when people don’t want to embrace change or grow out of destructive patterns. That being said, I find that to engage in deep relationships both parties must be willing, there must be a level of truth and honesty along with love & listening.Thank you for your study of people and your deep caring, listening and now sharing via pod cast to encourage others.                                           ~ V.N., A Colorado listener

Keep up the podcasts. I have been encouraged by them. I liked the one about giving out rewards for being. I want to try to work it in my family’s birthday celebrations this year.                      ~ Steve, listening in Georgia

I’m glad Carol talked you into doing a follow-up episode to the interview you did with Charley and Ruth Shirley. It was excellent, encouraging, and challenging.                        ~ Randy, a listener from Pennsylvania

I have more responses that I’ll share next week. I would love to hear from more of you about what you find helpful and meaningful from the podcast. It will hopefully encourage and challenge you as it does for Randy, our listener in Pennsylvania.

Back to today's topic of relating to people grieving the loss of a loved one.

I’m recording this in the month of February, a month when one of our daughter’s close friends lost her baby just five minutes after he was born. Kelli, if your listening today know that I think of you and Scott every February 22, the day you lost your Sweet Baby Ben. There are no words to express the sorrow.

At the other end of life is losing our parents. There are no words either when their death comes unexpectedly in the prime of their lives. In today’s episode I have a story of a group of people who didn’t need words to help one of their own bring closure to 30 years of grieving. Grieving the loss of her mother and father in a tragic car accident.

Hopefully the story will inspire you to help someone grieve when you have no words either.


Several years ago a friend of our family was going through a particularly hard time. Her name was Julie, she was in her early 30’s at the time, and my wife would go to her to get her hair cut. I did, too …. until she ran out of hair to cut. The part ion my hair got wider and wider, to the point there was precious little left to cut. We all went to the same church.

During one of my hair cut appointments I noticed that Julie was unusually quiet, and so I asked her if she was okay. She responded by telling me it was close to the anniversary of her parents’ death in a tragic car accident, and that this year it was bothering her more than in years past.

I had learned from previous conversations that Julie was 4 years old living in Iowa when her parents were killed, after which time she and her 4 siblings moved in with her mother’s sister living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hers was not a happy childhood, as her aunt and uncle, who had three kids of their own, were ill prepared to take on five more children to raise.

In asking Julie about what was harder about this particular year than in the past she said she didn’t really know for sure. All she knew was that the sorrow of what happened to her at age four was affecting her more this year for some unknown reason. She talked of wondering what her life might have been had her parents not died, if she had been raised by them on their small farm in Iowa, rather than by her aunt and uncle in Milwaukee.

The next few times I came in for my haircut, Julie would bring the same subject up again, and she seemed more troubled each time. I suggested she consider talking through this some more, and offered to meet with her in my office. This was during the days of my recruiting business.

She thought that would be a good idea, given how this was affecting her. So for the next several months, she would come to my office on Monday afternoons, which was her day off, to work through this. When she came to visit she relived her childhood with me, talking all about her parents, her siblings, and all manner of things related to how she was raised. Each time the sorrow of her parents’ death weighed heavier and heavier on her.

Then she started bringing in cassette tapes of her mother talking to her sister, the one who ended up raising her in Milwaukee. Instead of writing letters back and forth, they recorded tapes and sent them to each other, several times a month.

Julie would play these tapes for me, and then analyze each word and voice inflection, trying to understand more about her mother and their family life prior to its tragic end. This went on for weeks, and frankly, it was getting tiresome. We kept going over the same ground over and over again. She was stuck in this loop of replaying over and over a series of “what if” scenarios about what her life might had been had her parents not been killed.

We were not getting anywhere. It was what someone once described about counseling sessions like this, as an airplane circling an airport again and again, but never landing. Julie needed to land. I remember one session in particular where I had reached the end of what I though I could to help her, and where I just prayed while she talked, “Lord, what can I say or do to help Julie? I really need your wisdom and guidance from you. She’s hurting very badly over all this and I’m not really giving her much help. Help me to help her.”

As I listened to more of her story, an idea came to me that I know, without a doubt, was from the Holy Spirit. It seemed crazy at first, and I thought if I bring this up with her Julie will think I’m nuts. But the more I listened to her, the stronger I felt that this idea from God might help. So I said to her,

“Julie, you were four years old when your parents died. You’ve talked about the dim and vague memory you have of the funeral. I’m wondering if because of your young age when all this happened, and your inability to process it all at that time, that you’ve never fully grieved the death of your parents, but that’s what you’ve been trying to do for the past several months. I know this might sound odd to you, but how would you feel if we had a funeral for you, now? I would call the people you want to be there, and we could have it right here in my office some evening this week?”

Without giving it another thought, she agreed to this immediately. We set a date later that week in the evening, she gave me the names of the people she wanted there, and I made the phone calls. Everyone that Julie wanted there said they would they come. They all knew about the grieving Julie was going through, and they were all very eager to help in anyway they could. Within 20 minutes the whole thing was arranged.

There were about a dozen of us there that night, in our makeshift funeral home. We did all the things you do at a funeral. We wore black. I made arrangements for some to sing, some people to bring flowers, and others to bring food. Julie wanted this little funeral service recorded so she could send a copy of it to her sister in Nashville, who was having similar struggles over the same issues. So we did that, too. When people arrived, they came up to Julie hugged her, expressed how sorry they were for her loss, and cried with her over the sudden death of her parents thirty years ago.

My role was to officiate the funeral, so I gave a talk from Joshua 1, where Joshua is dealing with the death of Moses, and the grief he must have felt during this time, and how God tells him three times in the first chapter to be strong and courageous in the midst of his loss. I mentioned the commission God had now given Joshua to pick up where Moses left off in leading the nation of Israel. The point of it all that I tried to make was that just as God was there for Joshua in his loss, he is there for Julie, in her loss.

I concluded my little talk with describing for everyone what I learned about Julie’s parents from the tapes Julie played for me. How they were very loving parents. I told the story of the last recorded tape of Julie’s mother, that was made less than a week before she was killed. Julie’s mother was telling her sister, in this tape, how it was nearing the end of March and that Julie, 4-year old Julie, needed winter boots because hers were worn out.

Her mother talked about what bad shape Julie’s boots were in, but how she knew that if she got her boots now, she would outgrow them by next year. Yet there were still weeks of winter left in this year’s winter, and Julie needed them now. As I described this, I pulled out a box that I had hidden and gave it to Julie. As she open the box, she started to cry, for inside the box where a pair of children’s boots to fit a four-year-old girl. Small white rubber boots with pick trim around the edges.

I looked at Julie, addressed her directly, and said something along the lines of “Julie, these are the type of boots I know your mother would have gotten for you. You now, it’s March now, just as it was when your mother recorded her last tape, and I know now first hand how hard it is to find children’s boots in the middle of March.

“I went to four different stories looking for boots like these, and each place I went I was told they didn’t stock boots any more since it was nearing the end of winter. But I finally found a pair, Julie. And I know that your mother would have kept looking until she found a pair, too, because she loved you so very much. Try to think of these boots as also representing God’s love for you. That you are worth whatever inconvenience or sacrifice are needed. That whatever the cost, you are worth it, because he loves you so deeply.”

The service ended, and there were more hugs and more tears. What stood out for me this remarkable evening was how a dozen people or so, all of whom were prompted and directed by the spirit of God, took time out of their busy schedule to gather together to care for a hurting friend. To help her grieve over a tragic loss that happened almost 30 years ago. It was Jesus himself orchestrating all of us to help her grieve this loss.

Something happened that night for Julie. She saw God’s love for her in the midst of her loss. From that night on, she was able to let go. In the days, weeks, and months thereafter, Julie talked less and less of this tragedy, and was able to move on. The loss is still very real, even to this day, but so is the love of God that she saw demonstrated that night by people who had no words.


So there you have it, a story that illustrates the principle that we overestimate the power of our words, and underestimate the power of our presence. When we truly believe this, it takes the pressure off feeling we need to say something to hurting people. People forget what we say, but they remember what we do. Julie’s story reminds me of the quote of the week from episode 14 by Walt Whitman, “We were together. I forgot the rest.”

Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence

When we have no words, God will show us other ways – if we ask him, to help hurting people know we’re in it together with them.

Here’s a way you can respond to today’s show

Who are some people you are avoiding because, while you care for them, you’re at a loss for words to show you care? Give God a try, asking him for another way beyond words to deepen your relationship with them.

Coming up next week

Next week, as always, we’ll be considering ways we can transform our relationships into the best they can be.

I’ll also be reading more listeners responses to our podcast, and I’d love to hear from you about how the podcast encourages you. You can leave your thoughts in the comment box in the show notes, or you can send an email to me, john {at} caring for others, {dot} org. You can also private message me in Facebook.

Quote of the Week

What he needs from you is to be his friend, and then to show up.
~ from The Soloist


Well that’s it for today’s show. In the days ahead may you find ways to deepen your relationships. If you found today’s episode helpful in this regard, please forward it on to a friend. Until next time when we connect again, bye for now.

Resources mentioned in today’s show

Episode 014, Relationship Skills – Level 4

The Soloist