“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 and usually both. She allowed me to chew through some of the same feelings I was having over and over again. This cud would only digest 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.
So what gives? What did this friend have, what did she offer that made the difference? I’m going to lay out five simple approaches to grief followed by a few tangible tools you can pass out.
Five No-Nonsense Approaches to Grief
My friend 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.
She didn’t just drop in for a few minutes one day and say that she was so very sorry and then drop back out. Those condolences are valuable in their own sense, but oftentimes healing takes more. This friend 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: My friend offered 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 (she hauled three little boys around) 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.
This kind of giving is real, and the person on the receiving end can feel that. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but the knowledge that something was set aside in honor of their healing is a precious gift.
Don’t be weird.
I knew that when I saw her, she wasn’t going to give me that doe-eyed, “are you doing ok today dear?” look. The one where the person kinda tilts their head to the side. You know it. It’s the pity look. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being on the grieving end of things, it’s that pity is incredibly frustrating. 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.
And if you can’t find something to say (words are so, so hard after loss), just say you’re sorry and let them know you’re there. This isn’t the time for helping them pull up their bootstraps or trying to bring in humor; let them grieve.
Ok, so that’s vague but what I mean is this: Don’t passively sit by when or if your grieving friend needs to talk. 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; do that. Maybe they don’t know what they need, and that’s ok too.
Odds are they need to work through their grief, and 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 and give us purpose. Remember that when you’re interacting with your hurting friend and try to be what they need you to be in that moment.
Pain and grief are messy and you may find yourself feeling hurt and dejected in the process of helping a friend, but don’t give up. Your effort is worth it and will be cherished when it’s presented with grace and patience. Remember that you’re in your friend’s life to love them, encourage them, and point them toward the King.
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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 and is in devotional format. I read it in a week. 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 book 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. It’s 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. 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 toward a higher perspective.
There are so many excellent resources out there for grieving, but these three were the books that impacted me directly after our first two losses. I hope they can do the same for you and your hurting friend.