Friday, June 24, 2016

What to Say to Your Grieving Friend


One of the first funerals I attended was the funeral for a dear friend’s grandfather. My friend and I grew up like sisters and since I could remember anything, I remember visits around Christmas time from her and her family, back when my family lived thirty minutes from civilization in the little farmhouse in Illinois.

I never knew my grandfathers, they both died when I was a baby, but I knew my friend’s grandparents and I always thought of her Papa as a surrogate grandfather of sorts. He was funny and nice and always made Thanksgiving dinners jovial and fun. The day of his funeral, as I stood in the receiving line to console our friends, I suddenly got panicked and scared. I turned to my sister Ruth and burst into tears, saying, “I don’t want to talk to them!” 

I had never seen my friends this sad and I was terrified because I was a little child who didn’t understand what was happening. 

And I knew there was nothing I could possibly say to make this better. 

Since then I’ve been on both sides of this equation.

Knowing what to say and do in these situations is never easy. At my brother’s wake, an acquaintance of my family’s and someone I didn’t even really know, came up to me and said, “The good die young, so your brother must have been very, very good.” Yes, my brother was a very good person, but no, that’s not very comforting at all. I smiled diplomatically and said, “thank you” because wakes and funerals aren’t really for the family and loved ones anyway. We had our mourning in our own time. This was for everyone else. 

What do you say at a funeral? What do you say to your grieving friend? How do you comfort and encourage them? 

The sad fact of the matter is there’s nothing you can say that will make the situation better or provide comfort.

“He’s in a better place now.”

“It was his time.”

“Jesus wanted him home.”

“Aren’t you glad you’ll see him again?”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

As true as all the above statements may be, they don’t necessarily help ease the initial shock and pain of loss. The good news is that helping and loving a grieving friend isn’t so much about what you say but what you do and how you treat them.

1. Do something. Actions speak so much louder than words. Make your grieving friend a meal. Clean their house. Pay for their groceries. Help them with the details and logistics of the funeral. Take care of them, because when you're depressed and traumatized, chances are you're not going to do a good job of taking care of yourself. Pray with them and for them. Ask them if there is anything they need help with or anything you can do for them in that moment. If your friend isn't very responsive, chances are they still need help, so look for areas of need and be ready to fill them.

2. Don’t say anything. There’s not really anything you can say or do to help ease the initial shock and pain of a loss, especially if the loss is unexpected, so don’t try to. Even better, admit to your friend that you don’t know what to say. I didn’t mind when my friends told me, “I don’t know what to say” or “I wish there was something I could do.” It’s better to admit that you’re at a loss than to try and make your friend feel better. You don’t have to make your friend feel better. Sometimes all you have to do is be there and hurt with them.

3. Give them space. It’s important to be there for your friends in time of grief, to make sure they know they are not alone in this and that you want to do anything you can to help. At the same time, understand when your friend needs to withdraw and spend time alone. There’s a healthy balance to this because it’s never good for anyone to isolate themselves completely. Make sure your friend doesn’t fall off the face of the earth. Check in with them, see how they’re doing, and be ready to help when and if they need it.

4. Don’t be scared to talk. The thing about consoling statements is that they typically shut down conversations rather than start them. People say, “I’m sorry for your loss” so they can move on having done their duty and because what else can you say? My grandmother told me that after her husband’s death, no one would talk about my grandfather or so much as mention his name around her, and it drove her crazy. Everyone approached her timidly, dancing around the subject of her husband, afraid to talk about him because it made them uncomfortable. 

One of the best things you can do for your grieving friends is to let them know you aren’t afraid to talk about their loss and grief, that you’re available if they need to talk. You’re not going to start to squirm if they cry in front of you or share about all their confusing, painful emotions and memories. Don’t force their hand if they’re not ready to talk, but be patient and persistent in making yourself available, checking up on them, and asking them if they need to talk.

5. Remember the grieving process takes an undetermined amount of time...sometimes a long time. It’s not necessarily over when the funeral is finished. Chances are that’s when it begins. Even so, the grieving process can start as much as a year after the actual loss, maybe even later. The point is it's not necessarily predictable, it takes time, and it's different for everyone, so be patient, and don't assume that just because a year goes by, the funeral is over, that it's all over and done with. Persevere in asking your friend how they are doing and don’t avoid the subject or assume your friend is fine simply because they don’t bring it up. 

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Have you struggled to comfort a grieving friend? Do you have any advice you would add to this?


12 comments :

  1. What a beautiful post. It is so hard to know what to say to a person who is grieving. I normally let THEM lead the conversation and take it where they want. I think that is very important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And that is very wise advice. It's typically better to follow and simply try and understand their need before assuming you know what they need to hear. :)

      Delete
  2. I've been in this situation more than once with my Nanni's funeral, my grandfather's funeral, and my best friend's father's funeral. My go-to is usually a hug. I don't say anything and just hug and that's what works for me. Recently in March when my grandfather died, my cousin Anne kept relating the experience back to when her Nanni died, so I just sat with her and let her cry on my shoulder. Death is hard and I think constancy is what people need. Not words just knowing that you're there.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Victoria. And you are so right. Simply having friends and loved ones who are consistently near and available is so important and meaningful.

      Delete
    2. I agree, Victoria! I had a brother die ten years ago, but one of the most meaningful things someone did was simply give me a hug. She and I didn't know each other super well and she didn't really say much, but just simply gave me a hug and I have never forgotten that hug. Sometimes a hug speaks louder than words or lending a shoulder to cry on too.

      Delete
    3. It's so true? A hug also doesn't put any kind of pressure on you to respond or say something. It's just something you can receive. Thanks, Hannah!

      Delete
  3. Thank you for this. One thing that makes helping a grieving friend harder is distance. Both times when close friends of mine have lost an immediate family member I was halfway across the country. It is especially difficult to know what to say when you can't see their face and their reaction. I think sending a care package can be a good way to do something for them from a distance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing, Marie. Care packages are some of the best gestures and gifts to receive. Especially when your friend needs some alone time or when the distance is between you. :)

      Delete
  4. Grief is so tricky to navigate. My friend's boyfriend died last year in an accident, and I went through all of the motions that you talked about in your post. In the end, she said that she hated people asking her how she was doing, because obviously she was not doing well. So now I try not to ask grieving people how they are, but instead tell them that I'm praying for them and give them the opportunity to share how they're feeling if they want to.

    Great post! It's always helpful to talk about these things:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sunny, after my brother died I moved away from my hometown into a city where I knew virtually no one apart from my small church and sisters. But it was a relief to be able to go to work everyday and not have people look at me nervously and ask me how I was doing, because no one there really knew me or my family. I was able to open up about my loss in my own time, but at the same time I still had my family and church family close by, people who were walking through my grief with me. I think it's important to have a balance of both solitude and understanding companionship.

      Thanks so much for sharing, Sunny! Also, welcome to my blog!

      Dani xoxo

      Delete
  5. This is a thoughtful post Dani! It's good to hear from someone who has experienced being both the griever and the friend. It's timely, because my friend M. just lost her grandpa last week. She's doing okay, but has had a lot of stress in her life lately, so she and I just spent some time hanging out and having fun on Saturday. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry to hear that Paige, but I'm glad to know you are able to be a comfort to her. One of the best things you can do for your friend is just spend enjoyable time together. It says a lot to a broken, hurting person when people still want to be in their presence and share time and experiences with them.

      Dani xoxo

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...