Losing a loved one--a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend--is, in most cases, the most difficult thing that any of us will go through in our lives. It follows, then, that accompanying those we love through the process of mourning a death is one of the most important things that any of us will do in our lives.
As recent news stories have indicated, helping a friend or loved one cope with death can be very intimidating and many of us struggle determining what is the appropriate thing to say or do. Sometimes it seems easier simply to avoid death altogether and resist putting ourselves in situations about which we are unsure or uncomfortable. Our faith, of course, urges us to do the opposite. Not only do three of the Church's works of mercy (burying the dead, praying for the dead, and comforting the sorrowful) urge us to accompany others on the funeral journey, but scripture tells us of Jesus himself accompanying those who mourn from Mary and Martha to Jairus.
Perhaps news of the president's interacting with the grieving widow of a soldier can serve as a reminder to all of us of the importance of being present for those in our lives who are mourning. People aren't looking for us to explain why their loved one has died, they are not looking for us to take away all of their pain, and they are not looking for someone to provide them with all of the answers. Our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances are, above all looking for the people in their life to accompany them, to be present to them, and to listen. Even in the short time since I have been ordained a priest I have noticed a decline in the number of people who attend viewings and funerals and I imagine that this is due in part to the level of discomfort and uncertainty people feel around death. Please, do not allow your discomfort to get the best of you! It is so critically important that we continue to bury those who have died, to pray for them and their families, and to comfort our brothers and sisters as they mourn. You don't need to have all the answers, you simply need to be present--it is one of the most important ways we can follow the example of Christ in our lives and be Christ for those in need.