If you’re joining me here today from my Proverbs 31 Ministries Devotion Just Be with Me: How to Respond to Grief, welcome! I’m glad we’re here together. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, just click here for the devotion.
After I wrote this devotion, I reached out to some of my friends, asking them, What has brought you the most comfort when you’re grieving? If you’d like to read their responses, keep going! If you feel short on time, you can jump to the free resource 10 Ways to Help Someone Who is Grieving by clicking here.
I had no idea when I wrote this devotion or reached out to my friends, that I would have my niece pass away just a few weeks later. One of my friends listed below has had her mother pass away this week. We’ve witnessed just how much we need help when it comes to processing our grief. God was kind to nudge me in this direction; to help us right when we need it most.
Grief comes at us from all directions in all seasons of life. We need comfort when we suffer from disappointment. We need a deeper comfort when someone we dearly love dies. Grief comes suddenly and is a shock and other times we expect it coming. It is a part of living this life God has blessed us with. So how can we best help those we love, and communicate what we need, when we are grieving?
We Each Need Something Different
One thing I have noticed in talking with my friends is that the type of comfort they desire resembles both their love languages and their personality types. I’ve found the same to be true of myself. Some want to be held; others not so much. One friend wants to share all of her story; another desires simple tears and presence alone. My love language is acts of service, so I naturally feel loved when others offer their help.
Let’s look at what they shared:
What We Need When We’re Grieving:
- Presence: Amy shared that when she is hurting, she wants a friend near, making the time and space to be with her. Renee said companionship brings comfort; a walk, lunch, or coffee.
- Act: Counselor Michelle Nietert gives good advice: Instead of asking what can I do to help, choose three acts of service they can choose from. For example, could I take the kids one night this weekend, do a grocery run for you, or take the kids to school so you can stay in your pajamas one morning? If it’s an older person, you might give them choices like coming over for an evening, mowing the lawn, going with them to a doctor’s visit, or visiting with them while they sort through some difficult items.
Alicia agreed on practical help such as bringing dinner. She added: “Just do it, without needing permission or causing the person to have to navigate it. See something and do it. Offer; don’t ask. Simply be direct: “What time can I bring dinner?” This way the person doesn’t have to humble themselves. “I’m at the grocery store, what can I get you?” Bring a cup of coffee. These all speak love.
Grief depletes your energy. Small things like creating a grocery list zaps you. When people step in and do the ordinary things that suddenly feel like too much, it is so helpful.”
- Acknowledge: Suzie encourages us, that no matter how uncomfortable we feel, acknowledge our loss. Love puts others’ comfort before our own. Alicia agreed: “Acknowledge the pain. Words such as: “That is hard. That hurts” are restorative. Naming the pain can help the person feel seen and understood on days that could be especially hard like holidays or “firsts”.”
After my father died (Lynn), I wanted to talk about him. When people didn’t ask, it made me feel like he was forgotten…and so was my ongoing pain. Loretta says: “Show genuine interest and give people the opportunity and freedom to talk about the person or thing they’re grieving instead of avoiding the subject.”
- Purposeful Present: When Suzie’s brother passed away, she received a very intentional gift from her friends. This gift leaned into the grief with her and brought her healing and comfort. This purposeful present said, “I know this person mattered to you and you matter to me.” Loretta expanded on the present idea: “Take time to find out something that is meaningful that others may not take time to research, and gift it to the individual. This may or may not be something in physical form. It could be a meaningful story or memory.”
- Don’t Identify: For me (Lynn), I don’t find it helpful when others try to identify with me as one who is also hurting by the pain. Sometimes I can feel like someone is trying to “one-up me”. “My story is harder than yours.” I heard this from others too. The one hurting has enough pain to bear. When we are speaking with the one grieving, hearing your story of similar pain in your life or even if the situation caused them pain as well as you, can cause the hurting person to have to bear the pain of the person sharing and their own pain as well. They are the one grieving, not the one in a position to bring comfort.
Amy added something similar: “Don’t make your response about yourself. Be sure you have grieved as you need to so that you can be a person who gives comfort, not a person who needs comfort. Process your grief with someone other than the one who also needs comfort.”
Or, as one of my wise children told me, “You may need counseling yourself.” It was true!
Loretta shared: “Allow someone to share their stories and experience without inserting your own unless you’re asked to.” If you’re like me, I think we think when we tell our stories, we are saying “Me too.” Maybe instead, we should just say, “Me too.” That may be enough.
- Remember: Renee said she loves cards; at the time of loss, in months that follow, a year anniversary of the loss, or a holiday without that loved one. She enjoys texts too. Simple ones that say: Just thinking about you, praying for you. Keep in mind that grief lasts long after others have moved on.
Loretta adds: “Send a card, note, or brief message to acknowledge someone after the dust has settled, the details have been addressed, and others are back into their routines.”
I have noticed that card sending seems to be going by the wayside. From my conversations with my friends, I think we need to hang on to this love giving tradition.
- Physical Touch: A real hug; one that lets the person exhale and cry is what Sheila said she needs. I recently re-read Tuesdays with Morrie. Touch, in even the simplest form, gave Morrie, who was dying of ALS, great comfort.
- No Timeline: Several of my friends shared the need they had to not be rushed. “When people try to fix my grief, it makes me feel like I have to hurry up. Yes, there is a time when you do need to move forward. Let that evolve, and don’t push a person to get there.” shares Julie. It can be hurtful when people make you feel there is an acceptable timeline for grieving.
- Safe Place: We’ve gotten used to people sharing so much on social media. Yet not everything needs to be, or should be, shared there. Alicia says she appreciates a friend who has the type of listening ear where she doesn’t have to “clean it up” before she speaks. It takes a lot of energy to pretend when you’re hurting. Suzie said she needed someone who would listen all the way to the end; not poised with comfort or answers. “Listen until they quit talking. A safe person doesn’t come back with pithy answers, especially tied to faith. Be that safe person; one willing to sit in the tension of grief with them.”
- Bring a Break: My friend Michelle suggests: “Perhaps they need time and space to not talk about the loss. When my sister-in-law was fighting cancer, my friends took me out for an evening. We had fun and did not talk about the difficult season we were in.
I could keep writing much more, but this is enough to take in already! I hope you have found the wisdom of my friends as helpful as I have. This advice has all been hard-earned through their pain and suffering.
We have all either been through grief, are experiencing grief now or a loss is around the corner. Save this post, or even print it out, for when the time comes and you will again need to remember the ways to help someone who is grieving.