I started to respond to Amanda’s question in the comments section of the Grief is Dirty post, but realized it needed it’s own post. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked what someone should do when someone they know is grieving, so I’ll try to offer some real, tangible advice from my own experience. The disclaimer here is that obviously MY grief is MY grief, and I have yet to find any two people who grieve EXACTLY the same. My prayer is that the Lord guides my words and someone will be helped by them.
1. There is nothing you can say that will make her feel better or make her pain hurt any less.
The sooner you understand this key point, the sooner you will be able to offer real comfort. Yes, you want to take this all away from her because you love her and hate to see her suffer like this, but grief isn’t supposed to be fun. Grief is supposed to hurt and it is important…let me say that again…it is IMPORTANT that you let her grieve. The best thing you can say right now is, “I don’t know what to say” and then give her a hug.
2. Don’t ask, “What can I do for you?”
She doesn’t know. Especially in the early days, she will more than likely look at you as if you are a brick wall she has to scale. I was most blessed by those who picked something to do and then asked my permission to do that thing.
*Took our favorite picture of Emily to be enlarged for the funeral, bought a frame and an easel. That picture now sits in our living room beneath our family picture.
*Brought paper goods to the house while there were 9 million people living in my house (no need to ask about this one…it’s a consumable thing)
*Brought coffee and didn’t ask what kind, just brought something she thought I would like then sat with me while we drank the coffees…not expecting anything from me.
3. Don’t ask to take the kids for the day. (unless you know her well and know she would appreciate this)
The LAST thing I wanted after losing a child was to lose them ALL to someone else’s house. I couldn’t even stand the thought. No, I wasn’t functioning real well, but I needed the children to be right there where I could see them and touch them. You’d do better to ask if you can come and watch the children at her house while she rests for a bit.
4. Do something that encourages the family to move forward as a family.
It is very tough for a grieving family to begin making new memories that leave out the child who died. Consider doing something that encourages the family as a whole.
*a zoo or museum membership
*gift card to eat out as a family
*invite the family to join your family on an outing to the park or pumpkin patch or a game night in your home
5. Avoid the common phrases that too often end up sounding flippant and heartless.
Things like, “She’s in a better place now” or “She’ll never have to suffer the pain of growing up” hurt more t han they help, especially in the beginning. Yes, I know she’s in Heaven and yes, I know that is the best place ever, but I hurt. Don’t kid yourself into believing that saying those common phrases somehow ease the pain. They don’t. They are better left unsaid because you can be assured someone else out there will say them.
6. Don’t compare your loss to her loss unless you’ve actually lost a child.
Your dog dying, your grandma dying, your dad dying (no matter how close you were to any of them) just isn’t the same thing. My dad died 51 weeks to the day before Emily died. It just wasn’t the same kind of grief. They were both grief, but they were apples and oranges in how they felt. I would never presume to know what it feels like to lose a husband or a mother, and unless you’ve lost a child, you should never presume to know what that feels like.
Instead of trying to sympathize by comparing grief, consider saying something like, “Grief is so painful. I cannot imagine how hard this must be. I am so sorry.” In this way, you are validating that what they feel is hard and doesn’t compare to anything else. They need to know that the pain they are feeling is okay to feel.
7. Ask hard questions, but in a loving way, and make sure you listen to the answer.
Do not shy away from specifics when talking to the grieving person. If they’ve been grieving longer than a couple of weeks, they will probably welcome someone who will ask them something otehr than the usual, “How are you today?” questions (because frankly, that’s a useless question becuase the “right” answer is always, “OK,” and she is NOT OK.)
“What are you struggling with today?”
“Are there any memories that are especially hard for you right now?”
“How has the Lord been comforting you today?”
“Have you remembered anything about [her child’s name (see #10)] that has made you smile today?”
8. Listen to what information she does offer and brainstorm what you can do to help based on that information.
Stress makes me feel like I need to control something and the first thing I usually want to control is the clutter in my house. I had several friends who came to help me declutter for an afternoon here and there. Doing this made me feel as though I had accomplished something and I even managed to hold a normal conversation for an hour or so. (There will come a time when she will want to feel somewhat normal.) These friends offered to come over simply because they heard me mention the clutter in my house being overwhelming. They realized that was something the could do to help me and jumped right in.
*Is she worried about all the Thank You’s?…Buy stamps and offer to help her address (not write!) them.
*Is she having trouble focusing on what needs to be done during the day?…Ask her if you can call her at 10am every day to help her think through lunch and supper and one thing she can focus on doing that day.
*Is she worried about homeschooling the other children?…Grab some great educational videos or some of those neat educational bookbags from the library and help ease her mind.
9. Work behind the scenes.
She doesn’t need to know or even notice what you’ve done for her. This is true giving of yourself.
*Organize the meals that will be brought in (don’t just assume this is being done). A good online resource for doing this is Take Them A Meal.
*Come over while her house is overtaken with company and tidy her kitchen and clean her bathrooms.
*Give a memorial in her child’s name.
10. Bring her child up in conversations and say her child’s name often.
It hurts more to hear you avoid their name. I still keep an answering machine message left by friends on the first birthday after Emily’s death because they were one of the few people who said Emily’s name that day when they called with condolences. Most people just said, “We’re thinking of you today.” I appreciated this, but it was not nearly as wonderful as hearing someone say, “We are remembering Emily today and missing her too.”
You have no idea what it feels like to have your deceased child’s name and life begin to disappear from people’s minds. The simple act of remembering means more than you can possibly imagine.
If you, or someone you know is grieving, you are welcome to download my free ebook devotional Psalms for the Grieving Heart. To read our story and find more grief resources, visit The Grieving Mother page here on Raising Arrows. May you be blessed in comforted with the blessings and comfort we’ve received.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.