Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Guide to Helping a Grieving Friend

“A friend loves at all times.”
-Proverbs 17:17a

As you know, we have experienced grief and loss.  And over the years, many friends have asked us how they can best support their friends who have recently experienced a death of a loved one.  I'm not an expert and everyone grieves differently, but here are some of my (hopefully practical) thoughts on this topic…. 

1) Know your grieving friend will be inundated with flowers… consider waiting and send yours a month out or on the 6 month, 9 month or 1 year anniversary.  It is really nice to know people still remember even several weeks out when others’ lives return to normal but the grievers still find themselves flattened amidst the rubble.

2) Do not ask your friend to let you know if you can do anything to help.  Just help.  But in a way that is helpful and not a burden… ie: Text them to let them know you will be dropping off dinner at 3 pm in a cooler outside the front door and that you will not knock or come in.  (Oh and when you bring a meal, gift, or flowers, make sure your friend knows you do not expect a thank you note.)

3)  Listen.  Listen.  Listen.    You do NOT need to have the “right words” to say.   Grief is intimidating for the friends.  But this isn’t about you.  Better to simply be present, and listen if they do want to talk. 

4) Ask questions (and listen to the answers).  Ask about the loved one who has passed away.  I’ve found in my own experience and in others’ that those in grief WANT to talk about it all, but they won’t be offended if you ask and they don’t.  They’ll just give you a one word answer and you’ll know they’re not in a talking mood that day.  But do not feel that your asking a question will cause them pain or make them remember their loss.  They are already thinking about this 24/7 with or without your question.  So a question shows you care and know what is most likely already on their minds.

5) More on the listening topic.  Do not finish your grieving friend’s sentences, assuming you know what she is thinking, how she is feeling, or to fill the silence that makes you uncomfortable.  Again, just listen and you will learn a great deal while serving your friend. 

6) Definitely do not try to make your friend’s grief or experiences about you!  And do not relate his hurt to something trivial or something that may have been legitimately painful for you (like losing a pet) but isn’t on the level of losing a child, parent, or loved one.

7) Remember important dates/anniversaries/holidays.  Some of the happiest times for most people can be the hardest times for those who are grieving, stirring up many emotions and feelings of emptiness.

8) Promise you will always remember this loved one, even if/when the world forgets.  It helps to know your loved one made an impact during their time on this earth.

9) Along these lines, if someone has lost a child (or spouse or parent for that matter), it is not helpful to just pretend the loved one never existed and erase him/her so to speak.  For example, although it doesn’t hurt my feelings any more when people say I have two children, it used to… and I always like it when my close friends reference my three boys, including Warren too.  Not always necessary, but oftentimes appropriate and kind.

10) Do not offer trite platitudes or the “cheery/everything will work out” Bible verses at the beginning of the grieving process.  There are plenty of Bible verses that accurately deal with grief and deep pain.  For example, this is not the time to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” 

11) Similarly, don’t offer your reasons for why the loss/tragedy happened.  God WILL use your friend’s trial, but you don’t need to seek that out immediately… Your friend will understand at least glimpses of God’s plan at a later date.  But for now, you don’t need to find the silver lining, downplay the grief, or try to wrap it up with a neat bow.  Grief is messy; just sit in it with them and validate the weight of the loss.

12) Understand that a loss is a loss, no matter how long the deceased person was in your friend’s life.  Someone who is older and lived longer represents a loss of one’s cherished memories/past (or hard memories even).  Someone who is younger and lived a shorter life represents a loss of one’s future/dreams/ photos that will miss an essential person. 

13) Include your grieving friend and invite him or her to things. But understand if he doesn’t want to or can’t go.  Give your friend freedom but still include him.  No one wants to feel like a leper or alien (yet your friend may feel this way for a season).

14) Keep up with her blogs, care pages, emails, and anything that is important to her.

15) Text/email to let your friend know you are there and still thinking about him and his loss.  But tell him he does NOT need to respond.  (Remember to make this about him, not about you/forcing him to feel you need caretaking amidst his tragedy).

16) Know that “grief bursts” can happen at the seemingly strangest times…surprising you and your grieving friend.  She may be in the middle of a fun dinner party, and the normalcy of it all hits her hard against the backdrop of her thoughts and pain. Maybe just quietly squeeze her hand to let her know you understand.

17) If your friend has children, offer to babysit so the couple can have a date night.  Getting out always helps and adds perspective.

18) Send cards (like the tip on flowers above) at the time of the loss but also later, when others will get busy and forget… make notes in your calendar in advance. Let your friend know you remember one month, one year, ten years out.

In all of these ways, you will support your friend in his or her crisis and grief.  And with your help and prayers, the intensity of the grief will lessen over time.  Joy returns, laughter surprises, new memories are made, even though the hole remains.  But the hole becomes a tender reminder of the great love they hold in their hearts and the hope that God is making all things new.  Making them whole despite their hole.

Bottom Line: Pray for your friend.  Be there in a selfless, low-maintenance way.  And simply remember.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

February 2011

February 2012


  1. Thanks for this, Mary Liz. It's so true that people (myself included) don't know what to do in these situations a lot of the time, despite having the best of intentions. Some of these things seem like they're common sense, but we can always stand be reminded how important it is to listen and be thoughtful, especially in the wake of life-altering losses. My extended family is going through a really hard loss right now, so I'll be keeping this handy, thorough guide in mind as I reach out to them.

  2. This is a priceless post! I am saving it! Thank you for your deep honesty, it will help others. Hugs.

  3. Seeing this post all over Facebook makes me smile. The Lord is using your story ONCE AGAIN. Praise HIM!!!!!!