by Maddie Lukens, MA
We are living in a time of immense grief and death. There are so many of you who know someone who has lost a loved one. It can be hard to know what to say or do. Most of the time we are terrified we are going to say or do the wrong thing and make them feel worse. I’ve had a lot of experience talking to people who are grieving as well as walked my own journey of grief, and I’d love to share with you what I have found to be helpful ways to love someone who is grieving.
When I think through how to help someone who is grieving, I try to think about their pain as physical instead of emotional. For instance, picture someone who is vomiting in a trash can. How would you respond to them? Would you walk past them and do nothing? Would you say, “All things work together for good?” Would you say, “Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten that burrito?” You would probably get them some paper towels, or hold their hair back, or rub their back, or get them a cup of water. Another way to think about grief is to think back to the last time you had the flu or a stomach bug: every part of you aches, you can barely function, and you feel like you’re going to die. This is what grief feels like.
Keeping those things in mind, here are 8 ways to help someone who is grieving:
1) Be a safe place. In our culture, we do not typically grieve openly. We tend to bottle up our emotions and don’t let ourselves cry in front of people, if we can help it. To be a safe place for someone, to feel whatever they need to feel, is a gift. Say to that person, “You can be messy with me. I won’t judge you or try to cheer you up. You can just be. It’s ok not to be ok.”
2) Dump out. If you are struggling with the death as well, think about the deceased person’s relationships as a ring of circles like a target. If they are in the middle, who would be in the next circle? Determine where you fall and make sure to not add to the pain of the people in the inner circles. Those are the people you want to support and take care of. Find someone outside of those people to share your pain with. This does not mean you can’t share with them that you are hurting, just be aware of who is taking care of who in the conversation.
3) Don’t just quote Scripture. While I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is true and that it has a lot to say about our suffering, quoting Scripture at someone who is hurting can be insensitive. Even if you know that God is good, the evil in this world can make it so easy to doubt at times. I believe we have a God that completely understands this because He was human too. My advice is to make sure you have taken the time to sit with that person in their pain and listen to what is on their heart before you share Scripture with them. And when you do feel led to share a verse, do so with an immense amount of love and humility.
4) Talk about their loved one. So often we stop talking about that person’s loved one because we are afraid to make them sad. Odds are, they are already sad and they are already thinking about their loved one. Sharing a memory you have of their loved one can be a gift when shared at an appropriate place and time.
5) Be aware of ways to serve them. People usually mean well when they say, “I am here if you need me.” But few typically follow up later. Ask if there are specific ways you can help them. Sometimes they don’t know exactly what they need because they are just trying to survive and are unable to think clearly. Drop off a meal or groceries, cut their grass, think of a specific need you could meet….but try not to be invasive or do it with expectations.
6) Don’t say “I know how you feel.” Even if you have experienced a similar loss, it is impossible to fully understand someone else’s pain because their relationship and circumstances were unique to them. You can use your own experiences to empathize with that person and, at the same time, focus on that person’s pain and not your own.
7) Show yourself grace. We all say stupid things. Even with the best of intentions we can say things without thinking or things just come out wrong. Just apologize. If that person knows you, they know that your heart was in the right place.
8) Sometimes there are no words. Words can fall really short when we are hurting. There is no perfect thing to say that will ease someone’s pain. Allow that to take the pressure off. Sometimes the greatest thing you can offer someone is to let them know they are not alone.
Whether you have first hand experience with grief or not, everyone has something to offer someone who is grieving. You can help comfort and walk alongside them through this journey of grief.
Grief Counseling in Montgomery County, PA
If you are trying to support your loved one but you are feeling overwhelmed, please ask for help. Our team of counselors at Lime Tree Counseling in Ambler, PA are here to help you. We understand how deeply grief can hurt and impact your life and we offer grief counseling. Sometimes it helps to have someone else to talk to about how you are feeling. It is our passion to sit with those that are hurting and enter their pain. Please contact us today for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We also offer online counseling so call today to schedule an appointment.