The helpless feeling washes over you as you pull into the grocery store. You feel numb, and wonder what on earth it must feel like to have lost a loved one. We have all been there as we have a friend/family member who has lost a spouse, child, parent, or someone else they love. How do we help? Saying, "call me if you need anything" seems trite and empty. How can you help a friend who is grieving?
Everyone is different and people grieve differently, and that is normal. As a friend or family member of a new grieving person, there are various ways in which you can help carry the burden of their grief.
Realize you cannot grieve for your friend, but you can grieve with them.
People often avoid new grievers for lack of something to say or to be able to console them. However, you may be the very person placed in their path to help them find healing. Grieving individuals are often hard to be around, so be sure and charge your own batteries, so to speak, before and after ministering to someone else.
There are some phrases you will want to avoid: "I know just how you feel." No one knows exactly how someone else feels even if they have had a similar loss. I prefer, "I do not know how you feel, but I know how I felt, and it was unbelievably gut wrenching." Something else friends might say, but you definitely should not, is: "It is time for you to move on." Newly bereaved individuals often feel if they move on they are forgetting their loved one. We all know differently, but what makes sense in grief is that often nothing seems to make sense.
Newly bereaved people need to tell their story. This is how they heal. I expect when I am counseling a new grieving individual that they will need to tell me the story of their loved one's illness/ accident and death over and over again. By telling the story, they are healing and this unthinkable horrific death becomes reality to them. Be there and listen. Sometimes ask questions about their loved one. Say the deceased's name. It is the sweetest word new grieving folks can hear.
Realize it is normal, and horrible at the same time, for some families to fall apart after the death of a matriarch or patriarch or another family member. Sad, but true, families do not always come together during a death, but often times fall apart. Most of the time, the grief is too much, but often greed is also an issue. My dear friend and co-counselor, Marla, a hospice counselor, and I often speak of this: a person comes in and says you won't believe what my sibling did. We do not interrupt, but we could, and it would go something like this: "My brother/sister didn't help at all with mom/dad and now he/she wants everything." Or, my brother/sister has said the most horrible things to me, and we were so close for so long. When I have a bereaved client come in and state that their family is one of their strongest support systems, I rejoice! It is actually rare, but wonderful when families come together instead of fall apart. Be a friend who listens to the craziness of grief that often includes complicated family dynamics!
Invite your friend to lunch or over for coffee. Know that their grief will not last forever, but it may feel that way to your friend. Expect them to be depressed; however, if they begin to express suicidal or homicidal ideas, find help. Do not try to handle this alone. Urge your friend to seek medical attention, and if they have a "plan" and a "way and a means" to take their life, then call authorities and don't second guess. You are doing your friend a favor, whether they see it that way now or not.
Educate yourself about the grieving process. Read online or a book so you will be better equipped to help. For instance, it is completely "normal" for the grieving person to feel they are losing their mind, or believe they have Alzheimer's. Forgetfulness is a normal part of grief. Even extreme forgetfulness is common. Most bereaved folks report feeling they are in a fog. The fog will lift over time. Losing things and misplacing them is normal, but you can encourage them to have a hook or a dish by the door for their keys, and a special place for their bills, etc. It is also normal for the newly grieving person to feel they are dying from the same thing their loved one did. The list that we use as grief counselors for symptoms of grief is a single-spaced three column list. That is right, almost every physical and mental complaint imaginable is listed.
Encourage your friend to ride the waves of grief. Grief comes in waves. If we ride the wave when it comes and cry/weep or express our grief, healing will come. Did you know that tears of grief have a lot more toxins than regular tears? It is essential to rid your body of the toxins of grief. It has been proven that tears of grief are healthy. Some people are not criers, but most do cry. Encourage your friend, when a wave hits, to go with it and not against it.
Just being there for your friend is the greatest gift you can give them. It will not come without sacrifice though. Bereaved people are often difficult to be around due to the torment of their souls in longing for their loved one. Your making that phone call, remembering their loved one's birthday, or their anniversary with a card or call/visit will never be forgotten. If you sense your loved one is not coping appropriately or moving on, most hospices provide grief support groups and they are most often free of charge.
Encourage your friend to "take a break from grief." Go to a movie, go eat at a restaurant, take a leisurely stroll or attend a celebration. It is true that they may need to duck into a restroom and shed some tears as a wave of grief hits, but staying in the house and withdrawing from society entirely is not a healthy
There are other healthy outlets for grief you may want to suggest: journaling or art therapy, such as painting, pottery, or sewing. Music therapy by listening to music or attending a concert, learning a new instrument or reviving an old skill. Attending an uplifting church service. A good church congregation can mean the difference in healing and finding the support they need with a wonderful group of folks. However, a caution is that church can do the exact opposite if it is a narrow and negative "holier than thou" type of experience. Many newly bereaved people question their previous spiritual beliefs. This is normal. Do not judge, just listen as your friend finds their way back. Another coping skill is exercise. Exercise is the enemy of depression due to the feel-good chemicals produced. Laughter also produces feel good chemicals or, as the Bible states, "it is a medicine." Never underestimate the power of your companionship. Your companionship will mean the most and someday, your friend will be there for you when you need them!
I would be remiss if I didn't add, though my husband, sisters, mom, sons, and wonderful friends have supported me and been a balm to my heart, it is my friend, The One who sticks closer than a brother, Jesus, who has carried me through my grief. My prayer is that Jesus will comfort others through me and when they see me, they do not see me, but they see Christ. And, when they hear me, they do not hear me, but they hear Christ. And you, my friend, can also find Him as your only constant in this ever-changing world. You can also be a balm for your grieving friend by allowing Christ to love them through you. Pray for them and allow Him to use you as a conduit of peace.
- Kimberly Morgan, MA is a wife, mom, and Bereavement Counselor for Hospice. Follow on twitter: @kimmorgan63 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org