Your Friend is Grieving. What Should You Say? How Do You Comfort Them?

So many of us are grieving the death of someone close to us.

Grief comes in waves, receding, then roaring back to engulf us and batter us till we feel the tide might take us out and we will never return. It's not wrong to grieve. When recounting the scene of Jesus approaching the burial site of his good friend Lazarus, John tells us simply, "Jesus wept" (11:35). Jesus wept. It's the shortest verse in the Bible and it needs no explanation. I'm thinking today of my family and the family of John Wilbanks. I'm thinking of Rodney Wilbanks and his sister and brothers. I'm thinking of my daughter, Brooke Haworth, for whom the loss has hit hard. My mom, whose grief is a weight pressing down on her.

I am thinking of my close friend, Sima Taylor, her wonderful brother, Mohammad Mojdehi, whom she was so close to. I'm thinking of her daughter and her husband, Peter.

I am thinking of my own brother who died too early, and whose death brings daily grief to me.

I am thinking of Shannon Hitchcock and all the friends of Cynthia Chapman Willis, who recently succumbed to lung cancer.

God knows your grief and he cares about you.

This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you (2 Kings 20:5).

You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them (David, writing in anguish. Psalm 56:8, Contemporary English Version).

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain (Revelation 21:4).

Some of our friends who didn't know the one we grieve don't know how to handle the new, sorrowful version of us. If you are one of our friends, here is what you should say: "I'm sorry." or "I'm so very sorry." or "I'm sorry and I am thinking and praying for you." You can even say, "I don't know what to say."

Send a card to your friend's home. Write some version of the words above. Send flowers to the funeral home, if you are moved to do so. If not, that's okay, but the very least you can do is send a card. Your friend is in a very hard place right now, and though a card seems an impossibly frail comfort, it actually lends a great deal of comfort.

If you live near your friend, bring a meal or two over. Make cookies or banana bread or muffins--breakfast and easy snack items are generally overlooked but would be welcomed by the family.

If you can alleviate your friend of certain chores, do so. Can you pick up the kids? Take them to practice? Mow the lawn? Babysit while your friend conducts death errands?

Kids are in pain, too. Offer comfort to them as well.

Hug your friend.

If you have sweet or funny anecdotes about the person they're grieving, share those stories. They mean so much. Hand write the story even if you've told them, and send it to them in the mail. They will keep it forever.

Let your friend talk about that person when they need to. If they suddenly need a topic change, allow it. Don't be hurt. Grief works in swells; your friend needs to talk but also to be free to escape the swell. Let them.

Acknowledging your friend's pain tells them that you care about them; their pain is valid; you care that they are in pain; the person they are grieving for was valuable. I encourage you to not be afraid of your friend who is hurting. If you don't know what to say or do, I hope you find the words above helpful. Your friend is in an extremely vulnerable place right now. Rise above your discomfort and help them; however, a few things can actually hurt your friend, so be wise, choose your words and actions carefully:

Do not avoid your friend. Their sorrow makes you uncomfortable; your avoidance makes them feel that you do not care about them; you don't think their grief is important; you don't recognize the value of the person they grieve.

Do not offer platitudes. "It was God's timing," "You can still talk to him; he's watching you from heaven!" "He's in a better place now." These are throwaway lines. They have no power and they do not help.

Do not interrogate your friend on the details of the death. If your friend doesn't mention the cause of death, you don't need that information. When or if your friend wants to share that with you they will.

Do not mention and then launch into your own grief story. Your friend is suffering NOW. Be selfless and pay attention to their grief. This is not the time for you to claim your crown of grief. This is your friend's time. Let them have it.

 I hope anyone grieving has found some words of comfort in this post. And if you are a friend of someone grieving, I really do hope you've found this post helpful. Many people don't know what to do when their friend suffers a loss; the best thing you can do is to be there in simple, quiet ways.

2 comments:

Kim Kasch said...

It is always so hard to lose loved ones, even when it's expected.

Charles Gramlich said...

Such a hard thing to do. Such a lot of pain to go around.