Losing a loved one or friend is an incredibly difficult experience and one you are never prepared for even when it’s expected. Immediately after the loss, it is hard to imagine going on with life. For a while you feel shocked that your loved one is gone.
Having lost friends, bosses, grandparents, and most recently my dad, I have even more empathy toward those who lose someone close to them. As hospice told my mom, their journey is over and now your journey begins. It is journey that never ends. Many times it is hard to know what to do for someone who has lost a loved one, but here are some things that may be helpful.
Show You Care
A lot of times those grieving don’t even know what they need. I remember so many people asking what we needed and what they could do to help. At the time, I did not even know what was needed or how to cope. There is so much to deal with after a loss that it can be overwhelming. It helped me when people would call or email just to say they were thinking of me, let me talk if I needed to, or that they were coming to help with something. So many times after the funeral or memorial service, it seems like everyone goes on with life and you are left alone to grieve. Hearing from friends and family and knowing they haven’t forgotten the loss helps during those very difficult days. My boss shared with me a book entitled Tear Soup that so accurately described my feelings and helped me realize it was okay to feel that way. Another way to show you care is to take a few minutes to send an email to let the person know you are thinking of them. Or make it more personal and send a card or note in the mail. It is amazing what that simple gesture can do.
People who are grieving often forget about eating or just don’t have the energy to prepare a meal, especially if they have been a caregiver. The whole experience can be so emotionally and physically draining that it’s easy to take something out of the cupboard and not always eat a balanced meal. Don’t ask if they want food—just take something over to help.
DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING FROM THEM
During those first few months after losing my dad, I remember barely being able to survive—there was so much to do. Besides trying to grieve, there was lots of paperwork, added responsibilities, and a variety of problems to work through. At the end of the day, I was totally exhausted and couldn’t even think about calling friends or family. I so appreciated my family and friends who continued to call and show support and who didn’t expect anything in return. About six months after my loss, I remember telling my best friend that I was sorry I hadn’t been calling. She said it was no problem and understood that I had nothing left to give and didn’t expect me to call. What a blessing to have that kind of friendship! Don’t walk away from friends and family during such a difficult time. Walking away can cause them even more hurt than they are already going through. They need your love and support now more than ever.
EVERYONE GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Every personality deals with death differently. Try to be understanding if your friend or loved one is grieving differently than you would. I remember one person insinuating to my mom that it was time to stop crying and that life goes on. That is the way they would deal with loss, but my mom needed to cry out her grief. Each person goes through the stages of grief at his or her own pace, so sometimes it may take longer to work through the loss. It might be helpful to read material or books about grief so you can better help your friend or loved one. One book I would recommend is When Death Isn’t Fair by Joy Swift. It truly gave me insights on how people have to go through the grief process in their own way. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Be understanding of that.
LET THEM TALK ABOUT THE PERSON THEY LOST
For some it may be helpful to talk about their loved one. Others may cope by not talking about them. Let your friend or family member lead in the conversation. Even if it’s hard for you, allow the other person to do what is best for them since it is his or her loss.
Even though it makes her cry, my mom so enjoys when people share memories about my dad. It means a lot that people haven’t forgotten him, and it helps her to remember those special times that sometimes are forgotten. Because of this experience I recently shared with a friend a memory of her dad, and she had forgotten about the event. For her it brought back fond memories of that time.
OFFER PRACTICAL HELP
When a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse may miss the things they did together. The woman might miss someone doing things around the house or in the yard. Show support and think of things that might need to be done that she can’t handle. I remember our neighbor offering to change the oil and filters on our tractor. It was something I didn’t know how to do, and I so appreciated his willingness to help. For a widower, you might offer to do laundry or make a meal. One weekend my cousin said he was coming to cut wood because he knew my mom and I could not handle taking care of that, and we needed firewood for the winter. What a blessing that he and his boys came and provided just what we needed for the season.
Take time to visit and see how your friend or family member is doing. Sometimes having company helps through those lonely, difficult days. I remember our extended family coming to visit almost every month that first winter to help us cope. They were there for the first holiday, the birth of my nephew, and then his dedication. We so appreciated their loving support.
BE SPIRITUALLY UNDERSTANDING
Don’t keep saying, “The Lord is coming soon.” Although that is true, there is still the pain of loss. God is there to help through the trials of life. It does help to have the hope of the Second Coming, but the hurt is still there. Acknowledge it. Don’t make people feel that they lack faith because they are grieving.
REMEMBER MEMORABLE DATES
Going through the first birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, vacation, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays without your loved one is very hard. Recognize that it will be a difficult day, and let the person know you care. Don’t pretend that nothing happened and that it will be like any other birthday, holiday, etc. Send a card or call to let the person know you are thinking of him or her.
Remember that sometimes the simplest way to show you care can go a long way. Some who have not experienced a loss may not know what to do to help someone who is grieving. The main thing is to be there for them. This is their trial, and the focus can’t be on how you feel or that you aren’t receiving anything in the relationship at that moment. It’s okay. The relationship will become balanced again. Jesus wants us to show compassion. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Let us be the ones to comfort those who grieve.