Grief is a funny beast. It consumes your thoughts and days at the beginning, then slowly recedes. To hide. Only to make its appearance at unexpected as well as emotional (and often inopportune) times.
While everyone’s road for grief and healing is unique, there are some generalities. The famous stages of grief exist due to commonalities. While most people walk through these stages, they don’t always do them in order.
If someone you loved greatly has died, you know what I am talking about here. Know that I am sorry for your loss.
Today, I share because I’ve seen how unsettling grieving friends and/or loved ones are to those around them. Our culture really stinks, here in America, on handling grief. Because of that, most friends just don’t know what to do with a grieving friend.
Here are some ideas:
1. Ask up front if they find it helpful to talk about their loss. A common assumption is that it is inappropriate to bring up the loss. I have found that to be seriously false. Most friends I know walked through life wondering how everyone else could act like life was normal. Everything was completely different for them. So, by ignoring that, it felt like their reality was being ignored.
So… just to check, ask your friend: Does it bother you if I ask you how you are doing, both privately and publicly? Do you like talking about (insert name of lost loved one here)? I practically guarantee they will tell you that they want people to ask and they do want to talk about their loved one. Get some parameters from your friend, though, and you’ll be better equipped to help them.
2. Call them regularly. Most people who suffer loss hear from many people at the initial time of loss and that’s great. Calls and cards truly are special. I still have all the ones I received when Mom died. The need for this connection in sympathy doesn’t end after the first month, though.
I challenge you to call your friend regularly for the first year. Ask them how they are doing. If you notice they aren’t doing well (depression has set in), then make this a real priority every week or two. Using your calendar (whether paper or electronic) is perfectly acceptable and wonderful. Setting aside time to check in with your friend makes sure you do it and don’t just get stuck with well intentions. Invite other close friends do to the same.
3. Tell them you care how they are doing. I know that asking a grieving friend how the are doing is a really loaded question. You could find yourself in a situation where a friend breaks down or wishes they knew how to answer such a multi-faceted question, but…. ask it anyway. It doesn’t have to be worded like that.
If you see them at the grocery store, or park, or church, smile and hug them (or pat them in some kind of friendly way) and say, “I care about how you are doing. I hope the LORD is your comfort.”
Again, I almost guarantee that it will bless your friend’s heart. Their grief feels so obvious to them that it’s a bit startling to see people and not be noticed as startlingly different, which always warrants a comment.
It’s almost like they are walking around with a head full of blue hair for the first time ever and friends act like nothing is different.
4. Send them cards. Sending paper or ecards is easy, but makes a big impression on a hurting heart. While email, texts, and such are the norm, everyone still enjoys getting something in the mail. When it is a sympathy card or just a note telling your friend that you continue to pray (which I hope you are) and are thinking of them, I guarantee (I’m full of guarantees today) they will feel so loved.
Including loving Scripture of encouragement or a prayer is a beautiful way to bless them.
5. Recognize holidays and, if you can, birthdays. The first year without loved ones is rough and holidays are especially so. All kinds of traditions and memories are tied into both of these events and the absence is usually quite difficult.
Send a card, an email, or just say something when you see the friend. Let them know that you were thinking of them during this difficult time.
6. Pray for them. I know this sounds trite, but it’s not. If you take the time to go before the Father for your friend, you are doing an incredibly loving, honoring, and beautiful act. A precious Biblical act. It’s a gift.
7. Meet with them occasionally. I know, I know. We are all busy. I know. I do. Really.
But the pain your friend is carrying is affecting every area of her life. She needs friends right now more than ever. Your sacrifice of time will be like a balm on her spirit. Ask her for tea/coffee, meet her at a park so the kids can play and you two can talk privately (without a large group), or have her to your home. Feel free to set a start and end time, since we know that obligations affect us all, but please do it anyway.
I would say that one-on-one time with friends is one of the most precious ways people have reached out to me during the difficult times. I know I’m an extrovert, so there is that, but in talking to introverts also, they have shared that small coffee prayer times to talk have meant the world to them.
8. Watch for warning signs. Grief can debilitate a person if it doesn’t progress in a healthy manner. The LORD is with the broken hearted and holds their tears in a bottle. That is a beautiful truth that brings comfort. Yet, sometimes, for a plethora of reasons, a grieving person can get lost on the grief road. Or sit down
Then, the friend can find herself (or himself) in the miry bog of depression. Depression can sneak in like a fog or in can come running in like an elephant, either way is destructive. The signs can go unnoticed by the friend or can be assumed to just be a part of the grieving process. Many of them are, for the early months, but not for a continued period of time.
If you see any warning signs, you have to ask your friend hard questions and suggest help. Her pastor, elder, counselor, or mentor should be told if the signs continue or if the friend cuts off contact with you, leaving you guessing about her.
~ Not a difficult list, right? Most of these take just a little bit of time. You can be the hands, hugs, and help of Christ to your friend as she walks what can feel like an incredibly lonely road of grief.
Choose one today.
How to you reach out to a grieving friend?