Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

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How to Help Those Who Are Grieving

How to Help Those Who Are Grieving

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

You have mentioned you lost a child. I am a 42-year-old wife of four years. My now husband lost his daughter in a car accident two years before we met. She was seventeen and I never knew her. He never wants to talk about it but yet the house is full of pictures of her and her room is exactly the way she left it with folded clothes on the bed.

If I bring anything up I feel like I'm trespassing into his life. I have been supportive at graveside visits and have made Christmas Wreaths and have went out of my way to be compassionate. I feel that if he moves on with his life by cleaning out the room he feels like he didn't or doesn't love her. I don't know if he has any unresolved guilt or regrets.

He holds on so tight to her that it paralyzes him in so many ways. As his wife should I step in and clean out the room? To help him the way he is not able to help himself? Or should I just leave it alone and hope eventually it will work itself out?? It has been six years now since her death. Not really sure how to help him.

Thank You! Terry

Dear Terry,

While your husband is acting a little strangely, six years is not a long time to still be dealing with all the emotional hurt and pain. In his case I would recommend not too be in too big of a hurry. Thirty-seven after we lost Jessie I still occasionally see Jessie's picture and think of what she would be like as a young woman and the thoughts bring tears to my eyes.

After Jessie died, my wife Julie did not look at her picture or mention her until 17 years later. One day she just "broke" and out came so much hurt and pain. She wept for over an hour and a half. Seventeen years is a long time to bury such suffering.

The best thing you can do is try to comfort him. Jesus says that those who hurt need comfort (Matthew 5).

Tell him how sorry you are. Tell him that you feel deeply the hurt and pain he is enduring. These are words of comfort.

There are six major stages that your husband will need to work through in order to be fully healed.

The stages are:

1. Shock
2. Denial
3. Grief
4. Anger
5. Depression
6. Resolution

These stages often occur in this order but they don't have to. In fact, they seldom do. We usually are working on one or more simultaneously.

It sounds as if your husband is still in the shock and denial stage. He may be enduring depression as suggested by his behavior. You might ask him about the possibility of depression and get him to take a simple depression test (on line--takes about 3 minutes and instantly scored.)

Many people work through all of the stages and get healed as they pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. Some, unfortunately, never get to step six and thus short circuit the healing process.

My advice is to give him room and time to work through these stages. You might even mention them to him and help him to self diagnose which stage or stages he is in.

You are probably right in some of your wonderings. He may have many regrets. He may struggle with his love for her. Maybe her death had something to do with a divorce. These issues will probably need some personal counseling. Pray that the day will come when he may be willing to deal with these issues in a positive way.

I am sorry for his pain--and yours. I will pray that soon he will be emotionally restored and on the way toward many great days ahead.

Let me know how well you and he are getting along.

Love, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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