Before last year, I don’t think I fully understood what it was like to truly grieve a loss. And because of that, I never really knew how to comfort those who were dealing with loss and grief. I would do my best, but now that we have experienced our own losses, I am thankful that I have better insight in how to help others when they face grief of their own.
I wish I had known these things sooner, but I am thankful to understand them now. It is so valuable to be able to learn from each other’s experiences, so with that in mind, I feel like I should share some of what I’ve learned with you.
None of this is meant to be accusatory in any way. If you have or haven’t done these things when helping someone, please don’t beat yourself up. Life is filled with lessons that we all learn together, and I share this in love and hope that it will help you help someone in return. Also, I am not a grief counselor…I am only speaking from my personal experience and what did and didn’t help me when I was dealing with loss.
8 ways to help someone who is grieving…
- Be there for them. When I was grieving, it was so helpful to know that I wasn’t alone. When you are dealing with deep sadness, it can be easy to feel isolated, so when I had friends and family who were constantly letting me know they were there for me, it helped so much. You don’t have to be invasive, just check in on your friend periodically…let them know you love them and are there for them. Ask if they want to get together and talk. If they don’t take you up on that, that’s perfectly fine…at least they know that you are there and they are not alone.
- Be proactive in helping in practical ways. When we see someone going through a hard time, I think it’s almost habit for us to say “Let me know if you need anything.” And while we often say it sincerely, the person going through a hard time will rarely take you up on that. I know for me, I didn’t want to burden anyone by asking for something specific. But I had a few friends who plainly stated they were going to help me and they did just that. For example, one friend said she was going to bring us dinner that week, and simply asked which night would be best for me. That was such a blessing! After our second miscarriage, I came down with a stomach virus just days after we got the bad news…it was terrible. One of my dear friends texted me that morning asking how I was doing, and as soon as I told her, she said she was coming over to pick up my son, Liam, for the day. And when she did, she brought crackers, soup, and ginger ale with her. When you help a friend in a practical way like that, you may never fully realize the great impact you have on them.
- Don’t use clichés. This is a tricky one. We as a culture (Christians especially) tend to have these clichés that we say when someone is going through a hard time. We seem to think that they work as a little bandaid and will suddenly make that person feel better. Usually, they don’t. For example… “Everything is going to be okay.” “God is in control.” “This is just a part of God’s plan.” “God will bring good from this.” “This is all for a reason.” “Just trust in God.” I could go on writing about how each of these phrases usually aren’t helpful for someone who is deeply hurting, but I won’t. Instead of using clichés to comfort someone, just let them know you care, pray with them, and love them. They don’t need you to fix their hurt, because you won’t be able to (only God can do that). But you can love them through it, and that will make all the difference in the world.
- Mourn with them. This is biblical. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) There were a few people who would come see me or call and talk with me, and would just be there as I cried, and would even cry with me. They were okay with my emotions and didn’t make me feel bad for being sad. Mourning isn’t a bad thing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) We are supposed to mourn when we have experienced loss, it’s how we were created. And it is so helpful when you have friends who will mourn with you, and let you know that it’s okay for you to experience those emotions.
- Don’t try to cheer them up. This sounds weird, I know. Haha. When I say this, I don’t mean to not try and bring joy into their life. What I mean is, don’t dismiss their sadness and try to make them suddenly be happy. Don’t say, “Chin up! Cheer up! Life’s not all that bad.” Like I mentioned before, it’s important that they go through mourning and experience those emotions. There’s nothing wrong with that. DO love them, make them smile, and bring joy into their lives, but don’t dismiss their sadness like it’s not important.
- Express your love for them through cards and gifts. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but can be so simple and thoughtful. I received some cards and letters that truly touched my heart. They were just expressing their love for me and their sympathy for our loss. I also had a friend come and bring me flowers, and a couple friends sent simple gifts. It may not seem like much, but it can truly brighten someone’s day and bring a little joy back into their life knowing that people care.
- Don’t compare or belittle their loss. Comparison is the thief of joy, and when you belittle someone’s loss it can be truly hurtful. Saying, “Well, at least you have a child already.” or “It’s good you lost your baby during early pregnancy, and not later.” doesn’t help. Realize that whatever it is this person lost and is grieving, even though it may not have been as big of a loss as someone else’s in your eyes, it is still important to them and no amount of belittling or comparing will take away the hurt (but can instead add to it).
- Pray for them. Really pray for them. We say “I’m praying for you!”, but how often do we actually do it? This is something God convicted me of a few years ago, and I now truly make an effort to always pray for someone when I say I’m going to. If you see this person face-to-face, pray with them right then and there. If you can call them, pray with them over the phone. Pray for them even when they don’t know you’re praying for them. All of these other things I’ve listed above are very helpful, yes, but the thing you can do that will truly make a lasting impact is prayer. Because we cannot heal someone’s hurt, but we can pray to the God who is able to, and that will make all the difference in the world.
Also, keep in mind that people grieve for a variety of reasons, not just because of death. A feeling of great loss can occur because someone was fired, a failed relationship, infertility, sickness and health problems, moving to an unfamiliar place, or a myriad of other things. Understanding this will help us be sensitive and understanding when our friends go through these difficult transitions in life.
In addition to all of these things, I learned as the one who was grieving to be gracious and understanding when a person didn’t help me the way I needed. Most people mean well, but they don’t always know the right way to express it. And you never know what that person may be facing themselves. So many fight their battles in silence, and they don’t always have the capacity to minister to you in your own hurt.
If you have made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. I hope that this is helpful to you. I truly desire to help and encourage those who are hurting, and I hope this helps you do the same. We were not meant to go through life’s struggles alone, but with others by our side. Let’s work together to be like family to the community of people we are placed in.
Now, I would love to hear from your perspective…what are some things that helped you when you have faced loss or grief?
You are so loved!