Billy Graham has said that when comforting those mourning the loss of a loved one, it's important to remind them that God understands their grief and promises to never leave or forsake them.
The 98-year-old founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association shared his thoughts on grief in response to question posed by a reader who recently lost her husband.
"I lost my husband to cancer a few months ago, and I don't understand why my feelings are confused," wrote the reader. "On one hand I'm very thankful he's gone and is now with Jesus, because he was suffering so terribly. But on the other hand I feel like my life has been ripped apart, and I feel empty and miserable. What's wrong with me?"
Graham first emphasized that "nothing is wrong" with the reader: "you have experienced a major loss in your life, and it would be surprising if you weren't reacting like this," he said.
"The most important thing I can tell you is to assure you that God understands your grief," the Baptist pastor continued. "He also understands your feelings, which to you may seem contradictory and confusing. But they aren't contradictory or confusing to Him, because He knows what you're going through."
One of the Bible's most comforting truths is that "God understands just how weak and frail we are - and yet He still loves us," Graham said.
"The Bible says, 'As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for ... he remembers that we are dust' (Psalm 103:13-14)."
Graham encouraged the reader to remember that God is always with her - even when she feels abandoned.
"God has other plans for your future; ask Him to show you," he advised. "And in the meantime, take comfort in the knowledge that your husband is now free from all the pain and limitations of this life, and is safe forever with Jesus. And some day you will be also."
Graham is no stranger to grief; he lost his wife, Ruth, who he affectionally called his "life partner", in 2007.
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team," he said following her death. "No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."
"I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we've had in the mountains together," he added. "We've rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven."
In previous advice column published by the Kansas City Star, the pastor advised an individual who felt neglected by friends after losing a spouse to remember that God promises to be there - even when sadness or loneliness become overwhelming.
"Even if others forget about your heartaches, God never does! He knows the hurts you feel, and he knows as well the empty place you have in your heart," Graham said. "Furthermore, he has promised to be with you, and even when sadness or loneliness overwhelm you, he loves you and wants to comfort you."
He continued: "Then let me urge you to reach out and be a friend to someone else who is grieving or hurting. All around you are people who are lonely or fearful or facing uncertainty; ask God to help you be a friend to them. They need you, and you need them."
"In addition, don't forget your friends," Graham concluded. "Express gratitude for their kindness, and let them know you value their continued friendship. Remember: they may never have experienced the loss of a loved one and may not realize how deeply grief affects us."