“Is there something I can do or say to help?” she asked tenderly, sitting on my loveseat as I knocked around in my brain trying to find the right words to help her, to help us, to help me.
I knew she meant it—she desperately wanted to make losing Theo easier somehow. She pitched in with meals and groceries and unobtrusively made herself available and present. But she wasn’t sure that she was doing the right thing. She too felt the sting of the loss as a mama and an aunt; she could empathize. And so she wanted to help. She wanted to make certain that she was contributing to the best of her ability and to the height of my need, and so she asked. And she kept asking.
“Is there something I can say? What should I avoid saying?”
We had candid conversations like this, and it was incredibly valuable not only to our relationship, but to my healing process. It allowed me to talk—I’m a talker. In order to heal and work through things, I have to verbalize or write. Usually both. She allowed me to chew through some of the same feelings I was having over and over again. This cud would only work it’s way out through the regurgitating and re-hashing process, as unsightly as it was. My subconscious psyche needed to talk it out with someone who would listen and be invested in what I had to say.
This “she” is my sister-in-law; my husband’s sister and the mama of my three sweet Nelson nephews. I’ll cherish her forever, if only because of her investment in my healing (but not only for that of course 😉 ).
So what gives? What did Kayla have, what did she offer that made the difference? I’m going to lay out five simple and no-nonsense approaches to grief followed by a few tangible tools you can pass out (ahem, they’re books—I’m partial to books, so pardon my lack of breadth in the tangible tools department):
Five No-Nonsense approaches to Grief
Kayla put her life on hold for chunks of time to be with me. She was present and available and invested in my recovery from day one. She knew that this wasn’t going to be a quick cry-it-out in the shower type of hurt and had the wisdom to recognize that I needed someone who’d give me their time, no strings attached.
Kayla didn’t just drop in for a few minutes one day and say that she was so very sorry and then drop back out. (This approach is incredibly valuable and appreciated, don’t get me wrong—it’s not, however, going to be healing. Thoughtful, kind, and depending upon your position in the griever’s life, potentially heart-warming, yes. Deeply effective, no.) She kept coming, kept texting, kept pointedly checking in with me.
This ties in with the giving time point, but giving time is so important that it deserves its own bullet. Sacrifice: Kayla laid down her resources. She bought us groceries. She spent the time to pick up the groceries. She put in the labor to make meals for us. She used gas and time and effort (three boys to haul around, remember) to bring us those groceries and those meals. We didn’t ask for those things and likely would’ve turned them down if given the option, but she just did it. She wasn’t going to be stopped by formalities.
Don’t be weird.
I knew that when I saw Kayla, she wasn’t going to give me that doe eyed, “are you doing ok today sweetie pie?” look. The one where the person kinda tilts their head to the side. You know it. You’ve seen it, likely done the maneuver yourself. I know I have. It’s the pity look. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being on the grieving end, it’s that pity is incredibly eye-roll-inducing. In fact, I think that’s an across the board thing; it’s gross as a rule. Pity is the lazy man’s empathy. Figure out a way to empathize—you’ll be better for it and you’ll be of active assistance to the griever.
Ok, so that’s vague but what I mean is this: don’t passively sit by when your grieving person needs to talk. Engage them in conversation about something. Get them to open up. Figure out what it is that they need from you. Maybe what they need is for you to be a couch potato with them. Great! Now you know and you can be the most rockin’ couch potato buddy there ever was. But odds are they need to talk. Odds are they need to work through whatever it is they’re coping with, and newsflash: human beings are not designed to cope alone. We need conversation, touch, sustenance, engagement with others. Those are not recommendations for healthy living; those items keep us going. They are the catalysts for life itself. Remember that when you’re interacting with your person. Kayla did.
There ya have it. Now you have some tools to slip into your life-belt for the next time you have someone in your world who’s hurting. Be their Kalya. Be their person. It’s messy and you may find yourself feeling hurt and dejected in the process, but don’t give up. Remember why you’re in that person’s life: to love them, encourage them, and lift them up. Rock their grieving socks off with these tools, and don’t be surprised if you feel God smiling on you.
Some Tangible Tools
I love to read, so books were and are a soothing cup o’ joe to my soul. Here are some of my go-to reads for grieving:
Grieving the Child I Never Knew by Kathe Wunnenberg
This one is obviously specific to child loss (Kayla got it for me 🙂 ) and is in devotional format. I read it in a week it was so stinkin’ compelling. It challenged, stretched, and pushed me in my grieving journey, and I’m considering picking it back up soon (when I finish my current read) to continue to facilitate my healing.
Praying God’s Word by Beth Moore
This books covers a gamut of topics, but the chapters pertinent to loss and pain are powerfully healing and I go back to them time and again. I actually recommend this for anyone struggling with literally anything. Call me hokey (don’t, that’d be silly), but God’s Word is incredibly powerful.
The Slumber of Christianity by Ted Dekker
This one may seem out of place, but wow. Dekker is my all-time-best-ever-read-everything-he-writes author so reading this was a no-brainer for me, but I just happened to be starting it when we were losing Theo; let’s just say that God doesn’t mess around when it comes to timing. This book gives you a wildly new perspective on eternity and how we should see life here on earth in light of that. It’s a beautiful redirect to the Most Important Thing, if you know what I mean.
Books are one of my favorite inanimate objects right up there next to sea salt caramel-filled chocolate, and so this could go on all night guys. But I’ll leave it at those three, since they were most impactful for me personally.
I hope at least one piece of this gives you some direction—I’m pretty passionate about making the lives of hurting folks even a smidge easier and I hope you’ll come alongside me in that pursuit and implement one or more of these approaches. You won’t regret it.
If you’ve gone through a tragedy, what has helped you out most in your healing journey? Did you appreciate being checked in on, left alone, or a delicate combination of the two? What are the best things people said or did in your time of need?
The books listed above link to affiliate links—if you choose to purchase one, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosures here.