Grief is a universal, unavoidable experience. And yet we live in a culture that is so very bad at dealing with grief. I recently went through a season of loss and grief and found some people were incredibly helpful in their responses and others were awkward, insensitive, and unhelpful. And so here is a simple guide with some basic things I wish my friends knew:
DON’T offer platitudes as words of comfort. Phrases like, “I know how you feel”, “It’s for the best”, “Time heals all wounds”, “You’re strong, you can handle it”, “At least he didn’t suffer”, or “You’re young. You can have other children” are all unhelpful and sometimes quite hurtful things to say. INSTEAD, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” or, “I’m thinking of and praying for you,” are perfect things to say that convey sympathy, kindness, and care.
DO be present with those grieving. People are not going to remember what you say (unless you say something hurtful), they’re going to remember that you were there. So often we worry about being able to say the right thing. But what is most comforting to a grieving person is having people whom they know care be there with them through the grief journey.
DON’T assume if someone acts happy or fine that they’re done grieving. The grieving process typically lasts anywhere between 6 months to 2 years, with each person’s healing happening at their own pace. Grief ebbs and flows throughout the healing process.
DO ask how a grieving friend is doing with their loss. So often we fear “upsetting” someone or making them cry or feel pain. But healing can’t happen without feeling the pain, sadness, and weight of grief. And as a friend, you have a relational ability to help with the healing process by lending a listening ear.
DON’T dismiss or minimize a grieving person’s feelings because you’re feeling uncomfortable. Grief is unpleasant and it can be hard to sit with someone else’s negative feelings of sadness, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, disappointment, etc. We often try to fix others’ feelings to help them feel better. Or we ignore their feelings because we ourselves feel so uncomfortable with their pain or our own pain that may be triggered.
DO be a HEALing person. Be Here for them when they need you. Be Empathetic by doing your best to understand what your friend is going through and let some of their pain touch you. Be Accepting by not judging, trying to change, or telling them what they should think or feel. Be Listening by really focusing on what they have to say, letting them share their feelings, and knowing how important it may be for them to share their story of loss again and again.
Being a friend to someone who is grieving can feel awkward and unpleasant. But by choosing to walk with them on their grief journey, asking them how they’re doing, listening more than speaking, and trying to understand their experience as best as possible, you can be used as a powerful tool of healing in their life.