When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with God, though his body turns to dust. The soul does not sleep. This is proved by Hebrews 12:1, among other passages. The body awaits the resurrection, of which Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruits.
I would like to focus for a bit on how to minister to the dying and the bereaved. This is a vitally important ministry, and is misunderstood by many. Firstly, there is no need to be especially talkative to such people, unless they really want to talk. Often, it is the presence, the aura of peace that you bring that is especially helpful.
Secondly, it is not about the dead that people really wish to talk. Bereaved people really wish to know other things. This is why it is not really helpful to say, “Well, that person is in a better place now.” That’s great for the dead person. And it’s true, if the deceased by a believer. But how does that help the living person? It is much more helpful to say, “You will see that person again (in the case of talking to a believer about a believer’s death), talk to them again, touch them again, hug them again. There is resurrection, and you will know them again. You will recognize them (a question often asked, by the way).” They do want to know about the intermediate state, but the reality is that the pain is very much on a physical level: it is the physical presence that is missed. It is the person as he existed in the body who is missed.
If you can utter nothing but platitudes, then it is better by far to say nothing. They will not misunderstand you if you utter platitudes (that is, they will assume that you mean well), but they will not derive much comfort from your being there, if you utter platitudes. Instead, if you cannot think of anything to say, just be there, comfortable with silence. This is ministry, too. Do not think that you must say something. For many people, they would simply prefer you be there, but be silent. It can be helpful to ask them whether or not they wish to talk. Make yourself available for the form of comfort in which they are interested.
Do not ever underestimate the power of touch to comfort. They miss the person on a physical level very much. Comfort, then, on a physical level can be very helpful, especially holding their hand and hugging. Do not be ashamed or uncomfortable if they start crying. Cry with them.
For the dying person, the Gospel is the focus, especially the resurrection aspect of it. Dying believers really need to know that this is not the end, but rather the beginning of victory. They need to know that Christ’s resurrection has turned death from defeat into victory. They need to know about the resurrection body. This gives inestimable comfort. 1 Cor 15 is key here.