Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do or what to say when someone you care about is mourning a loss. The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), but we often don’t know exactly how to do just that. I hear a lot of shared experiences from clients who have well-meaning friends, family, churches, and communities. Unfortunately, many times their response tends to unintentionally cause further pain. There are three main areas I have found to be a common focus with clients, areas they are most wishing people were more aware of how to help them during their grieving process.
Resist the natural urge to try to fix grief
Our inclination is to offer a cheery perspective, some sound advice, or to demonstrate that we know how they feel. But well-intentioned phrases such as “Time heals all wounds,” or “Maybe you should try yoga,” or “He would want you to be happy,” can convey a subtle message that grief is a condition that needs a cure. Clients have shared that at times they feel their grief is a problem that everyone is quietly hoping they will solve as quickly as possible.
To avoid sending this unintended message, remind yourself often that the unbearable pain you are witnessing cannot be fixed, solved, or rushed. Offer simple words such as “I am so sorry,” or “This really hurts,” or “I love you,” can be comforting. Even a willingness to sit in the discomfort of silence can help. In It’s Ok that You’re Not Ok, Megan Devine writes, “True comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away. Companionship, not correction, is the way forward.”
Commit to remembering
When tragedy strikes, we are quick to rally together to support the bereaved with food, visits, cards, and help. But a few weeks or months later clients tell me they feel alone and forgotten in their grief. It is important to remember that what feels like a terrible moment in time to you is the new lifelong reality of the bereaved. Set reminders to check in with your friend in the months and even years following the loss. Commemorate birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries by simply letting them know that you remember and that you care. Saying their name and talking about the lost loved one is another way to mourn with those who mourn, assuring them that you have not forgotten the life or the loss.
Make time for the mundane
As time passes after a death and the early rush of care and help wanes, the mourning are often left with enormous new challenges as they take over the tasks and responsibilities of the one who died. A few of my clients have shared how much they wish someone would offer to step in to some of those roles for a season while they adjust to a new way of living. Simple acts like mowing their grass, car maintenance, transporting kids to activities, or organizing finances are all specific areas in which clients have mentioned they wish someone would offer to help. Pay attention to what may be needed. Then you can make a specific and committed offer of regular assistance. Gather a team of friends who can provide help for the long haul too. Small acts done regularly over time can mean the world to the grieved as they adjust to life without their loved one.
As I work with grieving clients, it seems that the simple care and presence of others for the long term is what truly offers comfort. Will you check in on your grieving friend or family member today? Would you set a reminder on your phone to do it again next month, and the next, and next year? It would mean so much.