In each of our lives, we will experience a storm. Not maybe. Not probably. But definitely. And not just one storm, but many. Big and small. Some of us are in the depths of the waters right now with the raging waves tossing us on every side and we can’t help but wonder when it will all be calm again. Some of us can tell a storm is forming ahead and we are praying for strength to endure it. And then there are some of us who are resting with grateful hearts because there is no storm in sight.
We will all find ourselves in different situations at different times in our lives. We were in a storm as we fought cancer in my youngest son, Bennett. Then we saw the sun break through the clouds for just a moment and it was calm…that was the day he went to heaven. We quickly entered the storm again, but this time the storm of grief. We still walk through grief today…almost 4 years later. God has taught us much about grief…about trusting Him and about reconnecting with life. In this post, my wife, Megan, writes about how our church and loved ones helped us through the early stages of grief.
10 Ways To Help The Grieving by Megan Coleman
Do you know someone who is grieving? Grieving the loss of a child, a spouse, a parent, a close friend. Or maybe someone who is grieving the loss of a job, the failing of a marriage, or a miscarriage. Loss comes in many forms, but with every form of love comes a time of grieving. And often we have a heart to love someone through the storm of grieving, but just don’t know how.
That’s what I want to share with you today…practical ways to help the grieving. Most of this I have learned from people that have loved us well on our journey of grief or books that people have shared with me along the way. The reality is grieving is often a place of loneliness, and it takes great love to see someone through such a storm. Whether the person you know has been grieving one day, six months or two years, they still need to know you are there. So here are a few ways you can do that…
1. Take a moment to understand grief (especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself).
Grief is like a fingerprint, unique to every person. Even though Ben and I lost the same son, we are grieving completely different from each other. But there are some aspects of grief that are often entangled in most losses. Grief is paralyzing. It makes you forgetful. It is demanding. It exhausts you from morning to night. What you once could accomplish in a day, you are lucky to get done in a week or even a month. And the easiest task seems impossible to accomplish.
Just recently I read in the book When People Grieve, “If the bereaved’s inner woundedness could be represented by an outward symbol, he or she would appear in a full body cast. There are many days when everything is hurting.” Many days, but not all days. The intensity of grief comes and goes, but the sadness is deep for a long time. “We grieve all endings on the way to new beginnings. And each grief changes us.” It’s difficult to understand something you’ve never gone through, so when a grieving person sees you making the effort to understand grief more…it goes a long way!
2. Don’t look for the perfect words of comfort.
Sometimes the most awkward moments for those that are greiving come from interacting with someone that has great intentions to share just the right “words of comfort or encouragement,” only for those words to fall woefully short. It is understandable that when someone dies, you will want to find the perfect words to bring comfort to the grieving. But the reality is we will never find perfect words of comfort. They don’t exist because the only true comfort comes from the Lord himself in our greatest time of pain. The best thing you can say in someone’s loss is that you are praying for them, you are sorry and you love them. Some of my favorite moments with family and friends have started with the other person simply saying, “I don’t know what to say…there are no words.” Share your honest sadness with them along with your friendly presence and know that this is enough.
3. Be specific in how you help the grieving.
One of the worst things you can say to someone who is grieving is, “Let me know when you need something.” I know your intentions are good to be there for them, but often they don’t even know what they need or when they need it. Instead, be specific in your offers. “I’m heading to the store tomorrow and wanted to drop off some groceries to you. What can I pick up for you?” Or, “The weather looks great this weekend so I wanted to come by on Saturday and plant some fresh flowers in your pots outside. What time would be good for you?” A few weeks ago my neighbor heard me say that I hadn’t bought valentines for my daughter’s school party yet, so she offered to pick them up for me. That was just what I needed and I didn’t even realize it! Just look around your house and find things that are on your to-do list. It’s on theirs too, but they just don’t know how to even begin. I promise this act of love will bless them deeply.
4. Bring them food, food and more food!
If there are two tasks that are completely daunting in grief, it’s grocery shopping and cooking. So bring them meals…for months! When we returned from St. Jude, our friends provided us meals for three months straight. There was no greater gift to this mama. And it doesn’t have to be home cooked…pick up food from their favorite restaurant or give them a gift card. Just a few weeks ago someone gave us a restaurant gift card and I jumped up and down for joy! Even 10 months after Bennett died, we still eat out more than we eat at home, so food is a blessing for a long time. And sometimes the greatest gift is dessert!
5. On important holidays and dates, send them a note or message.
When you are grieving, especially in the first year, it seems like there is always a date you want to ignore or that brings pain. A day that others are celebrating while you are weeping. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, birthdays…so many days. The hardest for me so far has been Bennett’s diagnosis day, December 22, and the 28th of each month since he died on April 28. But as hard as those days are, some of them have been welcomed with love from friends and family as they reached out to us with texts, emails or calls. My favorite Christmas card we received was a handwritten note that said, “I know your hearts will ache as Christmas draws near…Praying Jesus will put a song in your hearts that will speak comfort to you this Christmas.” It hangs at my desk where I see it daily. Remembering the grieving on their hard days and telling them you are loving them through it, truly helps them get through it with great hope.
6. Understand that you may remind them of the person they lost.
When I spend time with friends who have children Bennett’s age or who I had play dates with when he was still here, my heart is flooded with what once had been mine. It’s a constant reminder of what I don’t have anymore. The reality is, you may be so close to someone that you remind them of the person they lost. That time with you, brings them pain. In the book When People Grief, the author explains, “Each situation that forces the bereaved to look into the eye of all they’ve lost can feel unbearable. It takes time to confront such realities.” If this is your situation, please know that it is not your fault if they have pulled away or if they refuse your invitation. It is also not permanent and the deepest way you can help the grieving is to not give up on them in this season. Close family and friends wait.
7. Keep inviting them!
You may have invited the grieving to hang out with you and they refused. You asked again, they accepted but then they backed out at the last minute. Please keep inviting them! If you were an important part of their lives before they lost their loved one, they want to spend time with you. But what their heart might want in getting together with you, their body is physically too tired to do. And as much as they want time to be alone, they also want to be reminded that they are loved. You can endure beyond their season of grief by continuing to reach out to them. Trust me, they still need you! And when you finally meet together, be sure and be real with them in conversation. Their world isn’t perfect and their dreams may have been shattered in their loss, so it helps when they hear what you’re struggling with instead of a rosy colored life that is so far from their own.
8. Bring up the the loved one’s name instead of avoiding it.
Earlier this week, I was able to get in some quality time with my best friend (we live in different cities). We talked about a lot, but my favorite was when she recalled sweet stories of my Bennett. I know it’s hard to talk about someone who has died, but I promise you that the grieving is already thinking of them every minute of the day and it brings them joy to hear others say their name. You will not make them more sad but give them new glimpses of the one they miss so much. This is especially important as time gets further away from when the loved one passed away. It’s easy to feel like you are the only one grieving and the rest of the world has moved on. When they hear you speak their loved one’s name, it’s a reminder that someone remembers them too and they’re not alone.
9. They need grace…lots of grace!
This last point ties back into the first point I made. When you understand grief a little more, you realize the grace that must be extended to a person grieving. It’s important to remember that their lives have been turned upside down and in one moment changed forever. You may text them or email them expecting a response and never get one. You may help them in some way and never get a thank you. You may try every helpful point I shared above and it’s still met with anger, sadness or any other emotion from the one grieving. Give them grace and love them through their darkest days. When their storm is over, they will remember the depth of your support and how you continued to believe in them while they found their new way.
10. Keep praying for them.
Ben was sharing with me that he ran into a young mom at church today that is beginning a new storm of her own. She commented how encouraged she was to know that so many people are praying for her. She could feel it. She could see it working and it was bringing great comfort. Praying for others is simply one of the most loving and powerful things you can do for them…at any point in their life, but especially the storms.
Dancing In The Rain
My prayer is that these ten ways help you love someone who is deeply hurting. We have been grieving the loss of our son for almost 10 months and in some ways it’s gotten harder. So there is truly no time limit in how you help the grieving. The important part is helping them. There will be a day when their storm passes and yours begins…and they will be able to offer the same love to you because they will remember what you did for them.
I leave you with this quote I came across not long ago. It has brought me a glimpse of hope in my storm of grief…
As you help the grieving, you are giving them reason to dance in the rain. You are getting them through the storm!
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort that God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4)