Just Do It: How to help a friend who has experienced loss
Very often when a friend or loved one has experienced a loss, we don’t know what to do.
Through the devastating loss of my 1 year old nephew, Chase, in 2013, I learned that people, though having good intentions, often didn't know what to say, said the wrong things, or didn't say anything at all. And since then my grandmother, grandfather, uncle and a friend have passed away.
After the initial loss of my nephew, I had quite a few people tell me that they didn’t reach out to me sooner because they just didn’t know what to say. They wanted to reach out but didn’t know how. I understand that but I would have preferred to hear them, at the least, say "I’m so sorry for your loss.”
If you feel like reaching out to a grieving friend via phone or text, JUST DO IT. They have the option to answer, respond or not, but it’s nice to know someone is thinking of you. Even if it’s just to say “I’m sorry, and I’m praying for you.” You should JUST DO IT.
If you do reach out, here are a few things to keep in mind. We generally say “I’m sorry”, “I’m praying for you”, and “Let me know how I can help”. These comments are all fine.
However, regarding the statement “Let me know how I can help,” your friend really may not know what she or he needs. They might not have been in this situation before and might not be seeing straight. So, consider offering some suggestions of how you can help.
Also, instead of asking “How are you doing?” ask them “How can I pray for you?” The question, “How are you doing?", is one of the worst questions to ask without a follow up question or statement. Why are you asking this question? You pretty much know how they are doing and the response will most likely be a short response like “Fine”, “OK”, or “Getting better”.
I remember after the loss of my nephew, my response to “How are you doing” would be “Okay, but I trust God”. But it was so much more than that. Considering the circumstances, I wasn’t ok. I wasn't ok at all.
A very close friend who suddenly lost his father was very often asked the question “How are you doing?”. And this annoyed him so much. At times he wanted to respond, “You know how I’m doing!”.
So what can you do for your friend?
1. Ask “How can I pray for you?” instead of “How are you doing?”.
2. Offer to do something, such as run errands, clean their house or bring them a meal. But give an example of what you could do. I.e “I can run to the grocery store and pick up items for you”
3. Sometimes “I love you” does more than you know (say this only if you mean it and if you have this type of relationship with the person grieving).
4. Put together a care package to include:
Movie or TV comedies,
Books to help through loss,
A card or note to express condolences.,
Other items that are needed but rarely included are toiletries, plastic ware, paper plates, Kleenex. I would have never thought about these things until a good friend left these items in my home. I remember talking to her on the phone and saying, “Girl, you left a lot of tissue, etc.”. She asked had I used them, and I said "yes", to which she said, “That’s why I left them.”
5. Please remember that grief happens for an extended period. The number of people checking on them will continuously decrease and may suddenly decrease the week after the memorial service. After 1, 2, even 3 years it is suggested that you continue to check on them from time to time. Continue to call even if they don’t answer. Trust me, they are getting your messages.
6. Drop by or see how they’re doing. Text or call to ask if it’s ok for you to drop by first.
7. Give them a hug when you see them and when you want to let go or feel them wanting to let go, hold on for another three seconds.
8. If your friend has said things like “I have to be strong” or “I have to be the rock”, feel free to offer the following words of comfort that were given to me from a pastor in Oklahoma :
"Mourning is as natural as sweating; don’t hold it in or you will internally combust. You don’t need to be strong for anyone. Strength comes through your brokenness."
"Trying to hold it together hinders true comfort."
"Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted; that’s a promise. Sometimes the only prayer you can pray is 'Lord you know'."
9. Do feel free to talk about things in addition to the loss.
10. Don’t get upset if your grieving friend doesn’t want to go out, talk, and more. Remember they are grieving. Remember- They may be fractured but are functional.
11. If your friend is a bit short or rude to you, please extend him or her grace and don’t take it personally; remember they are broken.
12. Consider talking to them about joining a support group or going to counseling.
13. Encourage them not to go back to work so soon, if you sense they still need a few days. And trust me, they do.
14. Be open to being an ear for them as they plan the services. Sometimes, running things by someone who isn't as close to the person who has passed away is helpful for thinking things through.
15. Be there, Pray for them, walk with them through the fog.
16. Just check on them-- Text, Call. Let them know you are there.
17. Gently suggest counseling.
CAUTION: You don't need to attempt to do all of these in the first few days. Consider recommending resources listed below at least a week after.
Also remember that with your words, you might give your friend permission to sit down and be still. For example, they may consider going back to work the next day or run errands, but you may be that person to tell them they may need to take another day off. In all honesty, I should have taken more time off, but I went back to work.
Also note that you DO NOT have to have all of the answers and you are not Jesus. So it's ok to encourage your friend to consider certain resources and counseling.
Be careful not to try and diagnose. Be their friend. Not their therapist...even if you are a therapist make sure that you friend has given you permission to "go there"
The following are a few things NOT to say:
It could be worse (Horrible!)
Give it time (Why is this bad? It's not necessarily bad but time does not always heal wounds)
Be Strong (Who wants to be strong when you're broken? And they can't be strong)
Don't bring up a loss of yours too much (Be careful of making it about you all of the time. It's ok to try to connect but be careful here)
It will get better soon (How do you know?)
Your loved one wouldn’t want you crying (Tears are necessary)
You'll be OK (But he or she many not be ok now. So meet your friend where he/she is)
Don’t cry (Why not? Tears are sometimes prayers that we can't put into words)
Be Careful about this next one—saying it too soon or at the wrong time isn’t good—“It’s in God’s plan” or “You should be thankful”
Don’t compare the loss of a person to the loss of an animal (DO NOT EVER DO THIS)
Don’t force your friend to talk about their loved one if they don’t want to talk
Here are some scriptures you can offer:
2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
Matt 5:3-5 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth”
Psalm 62: 6-9 "He's solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I'm set for life.7 My help and glory are in God 8 So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be. 9 Man as such is smoke, woman as such, a mirage. Put them together, they're nothing; two times nothing is nothing."
Isaiah 41:10 "Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Isaiah 40:29 "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."
Here are some resources you can offer your friend:
Please visit my sister’s blog mrsdande.blogspot.com
Consider subscribing them to griefshare.org/dailyemails
Consider purchasing a copy of my book Walking Through the Fog: Holding on to Hope When you Can't see the Sun from Amazon HERE
"Death Has Died" by Andy Mineos
"Restoration" by Audra Lynn
"Dear God" by Smokie Norful
"I Can Only Imagine" Mercy Me
Your Self Care as the Friend
Be sure that you have someone walking with you as supporting a friend can drain you. You might be doing so much pouring into that you’ll need someone to pour into you. Consider journaling, praying, getting counseling yourself as it is hard to watch a friend in pain, especially if you have experienced a similar pain. You have the right to rest and say via text, "I'll call you back in 30 minutes" If you need a moment to yourself.
© Dr. Kristen Guillory and Kristenguillory.com, 2014-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dr. Kristen Guillory and kristenguillory.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.