Being a Friend to the Grieving

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

In the past week, we’ve learned of several families who have experienced sudden loss. No one welcomes grief in any season, but it’s especially unwelcome in the holiday season. And it’s not just the very recent losses that sting; it’s the losses of those who have long been fixtures in our holiday memories, represented by the chairs that now sit empty and the laughter that has fallen silent.

Friends and acquaintances are good about bringing food and sending cards, but most of us get tongue-tied and end up tripping over our good intentions. How can you be a true friend to someone suffering loss?

So many years ago, after my mom died – which happened six months to the day of my sister’s death, 1 1/2 weeks after the end of my abusive first marriage and on the heels of two miscarriages – I wanted to hoard my grief because no one could possibly understand it.

But I had friends who were just there. No, they couldn’t comprehend my grief, but they wouldn’t leave me alone. Sometimes I wished they would, but in retrospect, it was the kindest thing anyone could have done for me. Job’s friends would have done well just to keep sitting there with their mouths shut.

It’s a powerful truth, in fact, that the less you talk, the more you listen. Be willing to listen to your friend talk it out – over and over and over, if necessary – as she sifts through her shifting emotions. And don’t let grief be the elephant in the room. Feel free to ask, “Do you want to talk about it?” or to recall memories you have of her loved one.

Someone who is grieving may be afraid to saddle others with the weight of their pain (e.g. my hoard-it model). Let her. In fact, encourage her.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

At the same time, provide distractions. Take your friend to lunch or go shopping. Ask for her input on a redecorating project. Attend a concert or play together. To this day I’m grateful for the people who went out of their way to create an opportunity to get together, even if I wasn’t always a willing participant.

And be there for the tough things: Offer to help with filing insurance or Social Security paperwork. Help take care of the kids or clean her house. When it’s time, help go through photos or belongings. Most important, pray for and with her.

This is no short-term commitment. It is messy and inconvenient. Grief isn’t something you can bandage and expect to heal in a week. Grief scabs over, and then something – a look, a word, a date – rips the scab off and the wound is reopened. When the bleeding finally stops, a scar remains as a lasting reminder. You never forget.

But someday your friend will smile again. When she does, she’ll be smiling at you. And she’ll know how to help when it’s your turn, which almost inevitably will come.

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