Support Friends in Grief and Accept that it’s Okay for Them to NOT Be Okay
If you’ve ever experienced a catastrophic life event, you know the feeling of your life stopping on a dime and life revolving singularly around THE thing. But you also know that otherworldly feeling of everyone else’s life moving forward while you’re at a standstill. Or worse yet, they expect you to be normal and have normal conversations about normal things. But admittedly, most of us are at a loss for how to support someone in times of grief and crisis.
Mostly we have to remember that it’s perfectly okay for them to not be okay for a while. But how can we show we care and still let someone NOT be okay?
NOTE: If you’re the one on the “grieving end of the coin”, you might be the one who’s “not okay”. You’re not alone and you’re not weird. Feel free to reach out to someone and let us know what you need (or don’t need) from us.
Normal for Now
If you know the story of my dad’s health crisis last year, you know today’s topic is one I know well. When Dad had his brain bleed, I was in the car that afternoon to drive the 600 miles to be with him and my family. What I didn’t know that day, was that my life as I knew it was about to stop and the next 6 months became 100% about supporting my family. Not one of us made a decision or had a thought that wasn’t somehow centered around my dad or his care.
On a couple of my short trips home, when we got together with friends, I would think, “Why is everyone expecting me to be normal?” Even Mr. Dimples, who was craving the normalcy of having his wife home if only for a week, couldn’t understand that my mind couldn’t fully engage in regular stuff.
I remember one dinner in particular and our friends, of course, asked how my dad was doing, because that’s the polite thing to do. They really did care about him and me, but the conversation eventually moved on but my mind couldn’t. I couldn’t even talk about the things I’m normally passionate about like decorating decisions or yummy desserts. 😉
Tragedies Near and Far to Me
Last week was a hard week for many people around the globe. The death of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter among the others on the helicopter that crashed was tragic. When a very public tragedy like that occurs it lays us bare to our own mortality and the mortality of our children. It also reminds us that celebrities are real and real people are hurting.
Here at home, literally on the heels of this public tragedy, my husband came into our room at bedtime to tell me that he had just read on Facebook that a young man who was a classmate and teammate of our oldest son, had passed away in his sleep leaving a young wife and four very young children. My heart physically hurt.
When Life Goes On but Yours Stops
As I was preparing our house for the Super Bowl on Sunday I thought about this young widow who had just buried her husband on Friday and countless others who are currently dealing with tragedy or loss in one way or another. A Super Bowl party was probably the last thing on their minds.
I thought of how I felt during that time I was in the trenches of crisis with my parents and other people going about life-as-usual, attending parties, shopping, having a date -night or anything beyond existing.
It got me to thinking about how we might best support the people around us in crisis and grief. The first place for us to start is to remember that it’s okay to let someone NOT be okay.
There are plenty of good articles, like this one that will help you understand how to help people through grief. But I’d like to offer a couple of additional thoughts based on my own experience.
11 Practical Tips to Support Someone Who’s Grieving or in Crisis
- Pray! This is the first and continual thing we should do for friends and loved ones in distress. Cry out for them. Ephesians 6:18 compels us to pray for others on all occasions, but of course, in crisis, they get moved to the top of our prayer lists.
- Don’t try to cheer someone up, simply offer support. Even if we’ve experienced the same or a similar situation, everyone grieves or copes differently.
- Just listen. It’s super simple but sometimes really hard to hear them talk about the same thing over and over, but this is the reality they are living in and they are processing everything. Some of us process more verbally than others.
- Leave them alone without leaving them alone. Basically I’m saying, don’t badger them about getting out of the house, going out to eat, etc. if they don’t want. In my particular case, (mine wasn’t a loss but a crisis) home was a much-needed refuge and I had Mr. D with me. If you’re worried about them, go to them.
- Keep a physical presence with them for as long as they need it. In the case of Galen’s wife, her friends have physically stayed overnight with her and the kids. Don’t overstay your welcome but be sensitive to what they need.
- Engage in a mindless activity that doesn’t require conversation. Physically work on a project with them. Help them paint a room or something like that. Not only will they have companionship but you may be fulfilling a need in their home.
- Be sensitive to the fact that their lives are currently in a temporary state of pause. Don’t talk of or plan too far down the road for them or for you when you’re around them. When my dad was in the hospital for so many months and we weren’t certain how long this would go on or if he would wake up or not, my kids started planning an “adult vacation” including setting us up as childcare. It wasn’t for many months down the road yet, but at the time it seemed unfathomable to me that someone, especially my (and my dad’s) own family could plan for “fun” when our lives were anything but.
- Don’t forget them after the initial crisis. The grieving process is long. Whether in the case of death or a life crisis, there is support needed at every stage of the process. Offer help getting them or other family members to appointments, clean their house, bring them dinner once a week. The burdens on the bereaved or distressed might be emotional, but it’s physically exhausting.
- Give a gift card. My parent’s church gave our family gift cards for the hospital cafeteria to be used as we needed it and when brought us baskets of snacks and foods when we were at other facilities. This is so helpful because they showed concern for our care and took a bit of the financial burden off of us, but weren’t expected to sit down and have a meal with anyone and make small (or big) talk with anyone.
- Send a card. It has been proven that in the case of grief, cards are often the most appreciated gesture. Maybe it’s because neither the giver or the receiver has to respond at the moment when emotions are at the surface, but you’re acknowledging their grief and expressing your own.
- Don’t expect too much. This really sums up most of these points, but during a time of crisis, our friends and loved ones are full to the brim with decisions, heartbreak, emotions, fear, and worry. It’s okay for them to NOT BE OKAY!
- Don’t get too personal, but acknowledge financial hardship and organize help. If you know someone will struggle financially because of their crisis, quietly offer help. Of course, this is an opportunity for an entire community to bless their friends and neighbors.
- Gently suggest support groups when the time is right. In our area, we have a wonderful resource group, born out of another family’s tragic loss of their son. Ryan’s Place offers grief counseling to families who have lost children or children who have lost their parents. If you don’t know of any in your area, your local funeral homes should have a list.
Update – There are tons of books out there written by people way more qualified than me on this subject. One of my readers suggested the book, Hinds Feet on High Places. It’s an allegorical book (meant to parallel scripture) to help us better understand that sometimes pain is a part of our lives. I like this one because it also comes in a children’s version.
If you’ve experienced a major crisis in your life or lost someone close to you, what is the best advice you could give someone trying to help a friend through their grief?
And if you yourself are struggling right now, how can I pray for you? Please feel free to reach out to me in the comments below or send me an email by clicking the envelope button to your right.
Be the Church
My son’s former classmate, Galen, was a Christian as is his wife and extended family and they are and will continue to rely heavily on the Lord as they move forward in life without a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend. However, Galen could not get life insurance due to a medical condition. His employer, their church and our community are going above and beyond to live out James 1:27
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27
I did not write this post to solicit financial support for Galen’s family, they need your prayers more than anything. But if you would like to see a photo of this precious family and read more about Galen and his family’s need, you can do so by clicking the button below.Rasler Family Memorial Fund
You might also be interested in reading Shake Off a Spirit of Heaviness
In 2018, when my brother-in-law died in a tragic accident, a book was suggested for my sister called Hinds Feet On High Places by author Hannah Hurnard. (There is an adult version and a child’s version, and the child’s version was used and suggested at this time. And after reading it I am inclined to suggest the child’s version also as it isn’t a very child-like story, but one that is easy to get the meaning when you are going through crisis or loss. There are also questions and scriptures that are given at the end of each chapter to help aid the thought process.) This book is a very good one for just about every situation that a person is going through, whether it is loss or crisis event.
That’s a great suggestion Susan. I may add this resource to this post. Thank you.
You articulated what people in the process of loss and/or crisis do very well, Paula. Thank you for letting everyone know what we’re going through in that time. I remember sitting on my sofa at around 4 am, having had a sleepless night after my 47 year old sister was killed in a car accident. I sat there in so much pain, overwhelmed and almost consumed by the grief in my heart. The subsequent days went by in a blur, and yet there are moments I still see with such clarity from those days. And it has been 19 years since this tragedy happened. Am I “over it”? Am I “past it”? No. I never will be. But with God’s help, my family and I of course have lived through it. We still talk about her all the time, with laughter and with tears. And I believe that’s God’s Grace in there- helping us to honor my sister by talking about her and remembering her with our love. I know I will see her again, and we’ll walk hand in hand. Until then, I’ll continue to keep her close to my heart.
I am honored and humbled to hear your story Donna. During my dad’s ordeal, everyday my mom would say, “You never know what a day will bring.” This was either good or bad, but we knew God was with us no matter what. You are living out that testimony that no matter how hard a journey, God will see us through.
It so odd that I read this today as I’m sitting at the hospital with my mom. She fell Monday morning at home & fractured her hip. She had surgery Tuesday to put screws in. That went fine but she had verbal & physical aggression as side effects from the anesthesia. On top of all of this my youngest son & husband came down with the flu. My brother & I are taking turns being with my mom. Today was a really rough day. She was told she will be going to rehab at another facility & she became very angry with me. She had physical aggression toward me, thinks I’m trying to put her away, etc.
Prayer is the most important thing we need!
Oh Melissa, take it one day (or even one hour at a time). I’ll definitely be praying fir you and your entire family.
❤ thank you, that means a lot!!
So, soooo well-written, Paula. You hit every note. I’m glad to see you put prayer first. It sometimes seems like “the least we could do” but it’s the most critical.