Your cell phone rings, and your glance informs you that your spouse is calling. You answer with the expectation of hearing the familiar voice and tone. Instead, you encounter your beloved sobbing as they haltingly break the news that a loved one has passed into eternity. You might experience several thoughts and emotions at that moment, one of which might be an immediate concern for your spouse and another the urgency to be with them. The desire to comfort becomes strong.
God has equipped us to deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that grief causes. Grief was not in God’s perfect plan, but since He is Sovereign, He knew we would experience it, so He provided means of comfort. One of these is for married couples to share each other’s sorrows and joys. Even the marriage vows contain promises to love during negative circumstances and positive ones.
In the same way, the Apostle Paul told believers in Rome to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). As Christians, his letter was meant for us also. If we are to do these things with those with whom we share a faith relationship, how much more appropriate is it that we do the same with the person with whom we share the one-flesh relationship?
Not only does the Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep, but it provides us examples of spouses comforting one another. Death is not the exclusive cause of grief, but it certainly is a universally understood one!
A beautiful example of a bride comforting her groom is in Genesis 24. Rebekah met Isaac two or three years after his mother’s death, and the text tells us that taking Rebekah as his wife comforted Isaac after Sarah had died. God said in Genesis 2:18 that it is not good for man to be alone, but Isaac – at the age of forty – was very much alone. And he was still actively grieving. God arranged a suitable bride at a suitable time for him. To her credit, Rebekah comforted him even though his grief was not her own. She had never met Isaac’s mother, although she may have been acquainted with her story.
This account shows that it is possible to provide comfort to our spouse even though we may not be grieving ourselves. Rebekah helped provide comfort to Isaac’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during his time of grief. She ministered to him as only a wife should minister physically to her husband. She became the inhabitant of Sarah’s tent. This shelter likely held emotional memories for her husband, and she arrived at a time when Isaac was out meditating in the field, perhaps watching and praying. If so, he saw the answer to his prayer coming toward him on the back of one of the camels. Rebekah comforted Isaac, and he loved her.
Another example of spousal comfort is the account of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 12. This one is different from the previous example in that these two individuals had a history prior to the grief. Also, the husband comforted the wife, and their grief was a shared one. It is also different because there is no mention that either loved the other.
These were parents whose infant had recently died. The story’s negative backdrop is familiar, but we can learn about comfort from this account. We know from the context that both spouses, but especially Bathsheba, had just experienced a very traumatic year.
The baby boy lived long enough for Bathsheba to complete her time of purification; otherwise, she and David could not have had marital relations. When they came together this time, she was his wife. This union resulted in the birth of Solomon, a child beloved by God. By performing his husbandly duty to Bathsheba, David comforted her with the hope of having more children. This might seem odd in our culture, but in that setting, not having the opportunity to have children was an act of hatred toward a woman. Children provided security, especially in a woman’s old age. Consider David putting away his first wife, Michal, who remained childless. Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, and Naomi and Ruth are examples of women who needed a kinsman redeemer to claim their inheritance.
David had other wives with whom he could have found consolation if he chose. On the other hand, David was Bathsheba’s only husband. He was the one person who could comfort her in this way. Since they were each grieving the death of their child, it is appropriate that they found solace together. He assured her that she would not face a life of isolation akin to widowhood by meeting the Levitical requirements toward her. David had sought the LORD through fasting while the child lived and then met his own physical needs by cleansing himself and taking food after the child died. Providing her with more children was one of the few ways that David could comfort Bathsheba after the infamy they had both recently endured.
Our last Biblical example is not of grief caused by death but of deep yearning as experienced by Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s grief was the result of not having children. It was a shared grief, and yet in a sense, it was not a shared one. Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, loved her dearly and sympathized with her, but he had children with another wife. He comforted Hannah by assuring her of his love, giving her worthy portions, and allowing her to fulfill the vow she made to the LORD while praying for Samuel. Under Levitical law, he had the authority to nullify her vow once he was aware of it. He chose not to do that. Samuel was the answer to Hannah’s prayer, and his parents took him to live at the tabernacle at Shiloh when he was old enough to leave his mother. During her time of grief, Elkanah met Hannah’s needs as well as he could. He provided all her physical needs. He did what he could to restore her emotional stability, and he provided everything needed for proper worship when they went up to Shiloh. God supplied the rest.
What, then, are ways that we can meet our spouse’s needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually during times of grief?
- Get to your grieving spouse as soon as possible after you are aware of the situation.
- Notice details if you can. Grief has a way of making some things acutely clear and other things completely disappear. Your spouse may ask questions after the shock clears. It is comforting to them if you know the answers.
- If your spouse is helping to plan the funeral, you go to the funeral home, too. If you possess the necessary information, take it along.
- Encourage them to eat. People will often say they are not hungry when they are in shock, but they must keep up their strength.
- Assess over time if they are maintaining proper hygiene. Uncharacteristic slovenliness that becomes habitual can be a sign of depression.
- If your spouse cries, hold them.
- Hold your spouse’s hand in public. Keep an arm through their arm. Physical touch is always important.
- Encourage them to rest. Sometimes adrenaline makes this difficult. Soothing instrumental music in a dark room can help.
- Encourage them to talk about their loved ones. Topics can cover a wide spectrum: favorite memory, funny stories, proudest moment, etc.
- Allow them to be silent sometimes. Grief is draining. Silence may be necessary to allow the brain to rest.
- You talk about their loved ones. Let them know you have not forgotten the person.
- Ask your spouse about their dreams. Our brains can process our memories and fears through dreams and nightmares.
- Get counseling if necessary. Through counseling, we discovered that women and men react to grief differently.
- If death is not the reason for the grief, talk about hope for the future.
- Encourage daily Bible reading. Everything may seem rote, but God’s Word is living and pierces the soul and spirit division (Hebrews 4:12). Something will nourish the spirit even if it does not seem like it at the time.
- Talk about the promise of the resurrection, especially if the deceased was a believer.
- Talk about the future promise of having grief erased, especially if the deceased was not a believer.
- Talk about the will of God for the future if disappointment or yearning is the cause.
- Remind your spouse that God is in control, whatever the cause of grief.
- Pray together.
These are things we have found helpful when comforting each other. You may find other steps helpful in your own situation. No one knows each other like spouses do.