One of the things I've learned about grief is that it can sometimes turn the griever into a magnet for those who want to comment, offer advice, and attempt to comfort. Some people have the gift of being able to offer compassion and wisdom. Others are...well, let's just say that are less gifted in that area and perhaps should rethink their approach.
Here are some things I believe it is best not to do or say when attempting to comfort others:
1. "Well, you should be thankful it wasn't worse. My Great-Aunt Matilda..." This is not a contest to see whose relative died the most tragic death. It is not comforting to know that some have died quicker, or that some have died more prolonged and tortuous deaths, or that some spent their last days screaming in agony.
2. "You're not supposed to grieve like the heathen grieve. It says so right in the Bible. So, you better dry those tears and THANK GOD!" I take Jesus as my role model for grieving. He wept at the grave of someone He was planning on bringing back to life in mere moments, so I think it's not some wicked sin for me to grieve for someone I won't see again this side of Heaven. Besides, we're not forbidden to grieve. We grieve differently, since we have hope, and we have our Lord sharing our grief.
3. "That's nothing. Think of all the REAL suffering going on in the world. Why, right this very moment, there are people..." Again, this is not a contest. Knowing that someone else may have had their leg chopped off in a gruesome accident does not lessen the pain of having my toenail ripped off. If anything, now I'm distressed over my injury and all the other horror stories you told me in order to...I have no idea...certainly you didn't think you were cheering me up?!
4. "That reminds me of the time that I..." There are times when sharing your own pain and sorrowful experience can be helpful. However, I have to admit that sometimes when I've done this, I've been aghast to discover that I've inadvertently managed to turn the situation into being about me, rather than being about offering the comfort of God to someone who is suffering now.
5. "I know just how you feel, losing your husband. When my boyfriend broke up with me, I cried all day." Please don't trivialize widowhood by comparing it to losing a boyfriend of three months. (Someone actually did this!) When a head of household loses his/her job, it's not the same as the neighbor asking little Buford to take his lawn-mowing services elsewhere. Losing a beloved brother is not like losing a dog. (Trust me. I've gone through both.) Even if you think you have gone through something that is truly similar (e.g., you also lost your spouse) does not mean you know how the person feels. Their experience may be different than yours.
6. "If I were you..." You're not.
7. "Somehow I expected that, after going through this, you would ________" [Fill in the blank with, "act stronger", "cry more", "act like a better Christian", "not be such a wimp", whatever.] Please do not critique how others grieve. If they are in sin, that's a different story; certainly you shouldn't idly stand by while someone expresses their grief by robbing banks. However, you are not the grief police. Just because someone doesn't grieve by your rules does not mean you should take them to task.
8. "I really don't think what you went through was such a big deal. It isn't like you suffered or anything. What you experienced was just fleeting discomfort. I don't know why you're not over it yet." That isn't comfort. That's cruelty.
So what should you say? Not much, until you've listened...wept with those who are weeping...and listened some more. Then speak words of true comfort, how God has comforted you in your afflictions.