There are many books and articles and written on grief. However, there is not a lot out there on how to help someone who is grieving. My content for today's column is from you, my friends. You've shown me the right way to help someone who is grieving. I can honestly say that with conviction.
This community and those beyond have ministered to me as angels and I am indebted to you. But, there may be some who are puzzled about "how" to help someone they love with grief. The pain of watching someone we love hurt is often daunting. So today, I want to ease some of your minds that you are probably doing the right things, and for those of you who do not know what on earth to do. Here are some thoughts on walking alongside someone who is grieving.
1. Allow them to lead you. They may want to talk incessantly about their loved one who has gone to heaven. Then, for others, even the mere mention of their loved one's name may bring them to tears. Grief is a roller coaster of emotions. There is no way for the grieving person to know what's coming, let alone those walking alongside to know. However, when they talk about their loved one, look them in the eye and listen. Join in the conversation. If you knew the deceased, share memories. Personally, I love it when someone is comfortable to talk about my girl with me. That is a catharsis for me. But, that is my personality and the way I grieve. Everyone grieves differently and that is the next point.
2. Some people withdraw and want to be alone. Allow them to be alone for awhile, but isolation is never healthy. Encourage your grieving friend to rejoin society by attending church with them, cooking a meal, going out to eat, going for a walk, shopping, exercise or anything that nurtures the social and spiritual part of their life.
3. Do not use the Bible or common phrases to attempt to comfort them. By that, I mean do not give pat answers as a solution for the complex issue of grief or the "why" their loved one was torn from them. Truly, I have not had this happen, but I know many who have. When I lost my first husband, we were attending Tennessee Temple University. The school drama team had just completed a summer tour for ministry. One of my first Sundays at church, they presented the drama. Wouldn't you know, the drama was about a young woman who lost her husband and they presented the right way and the wrong ways to comfort her. My husband died on Aug. 28, and it was the very beginning of the new school year. Honestly, it was a wonderful and divine conspiracy because TTU had around 5,000 students at the time, and the church seated 7,000, and now they all knew the right way to comfort me. They did not glibly quote scripture as a pat answer, but they invited me out for shopping. They brought presents to Kristin (then 9 months old), babysat to give me a break, helped to celebrate her first birthday, helped me teach her to walk, and on and on I could go. That drama was the catalyst for an entire student body and church body to minister to me in a loving and non-judgmental way. I am so thankful. They had a part in my becoming a grief counselor many years later.
4. Do be understanding when your loved one struggles with yet another wave of grief. Grief does not end when the 12- month anniversary comes. As a matter of fact, some struggle for years, while others seem to bounce back faster. Allow everyone their individual grief style. Some people weep, rant, get angry, become sullen, laugh to hide their pain, and on and on we could go in the description of a grieving person. The main thing is what you all have done for me: Be there for them. Simply, be there for them. That means more than anything else. However, if you sense that your loved one is becoming stuck in a stage of grief, then suggest gently to them that they might need to see a grief counselor. The stages are as follows: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Sometimes the only thing standing between them getting back into life is a little counseling. If they are struggling with panic attacks and anxiety, suggest a check up with a doctor.
5. I have many people who have been ultra creative in helping me through the grieving process. Some are children who have made me homemade gifts and cards. Oh, how precious! Others are people who have used Bible verses to comfort, and to me personally, it has helped immensely.
I heard once a story of a little boy. He was frightened of the dark at night. His mother tired of going in and reassuring the lad of her presence, so she replied to yet another plea for comfort: "Oh son, it's OK in the dark, because Jesus is there with you."
The boy as quick as a wink responded, "But, I want someone with skin on."
You have been Jesus with skin on to me, dear friends. And I humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart.
There are so many in our community who have lost loved ones recently, you and I can allow God to flow through us (be Jesus with skin on) to help bind up their broken hearts and heal their lives. Sending a card, making a phone call, going shopping with them or out to eat, inviting them to church, listening, talking with them about their loved one, and encouraging. But most of all: Pray for them and ask God to be with them, to comfort them and to mend their broken heart. Only He can be with us 24/7. He is the ultimate comforter. Then, be Jesus with skin on to someone who is hurting today.
(Kimberly Morgan, MA, is a wife and homeschool mom in Elkins. She is also counselor and chaplain at Cornerstone Christian Counseling. Contact her at 304-637-1109.)