I am often asked how someone can be of support to others in their grief. Here are some simple, straightforward and practical ways you can show your love.
-Your willingness to be loving, kind, supportive, and present goes a really long way. Reaching out and showing love means so much. Your thoughts and prayers (even when you feel otherwise helpless) are valued and necessary.
-Take time to say something. Words, especially the right words, are hard-earned and take lots of thought and time. It’s easy not to say something, and it’s easy to just find a card to say it, but the things that meant the most to me were when friends took the time to write out a real letter expressing their deep pain alongside us. It takes effort and empathy, but it means a lot. It’s never too late to say something.
-Encourage them to get involved in a support group. Offer to help make this possible in whatever way they may need (childcare for other kids, etc). Help look up these resources. Griefshare is a great group that is at many churches. Maybe even call around to get information about when/where so they don’t have to look it all up themselves. There are various local support groups, as well as online groups. Connecting with other people can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming, but it helps so much to know you are not alone. Check out our resources page for more links and book suggestions. There are also some great in-person retreats that are so helpful. David and Nancy Guthrie lead a Respite Retreat in TN that we attended and really appreciated. I have also loved attending the Restoring A Mother’s Heart Retreat put on by the Ethan Lindberg Foundation.
-Remind them that it is okay to step back from activities—especially those involving social involvement, serving others, etc. Some people feel really guilty about this, but grief is completely exhausting (especially all year one) and requires a lot of pulling back just to get through regular life. We are still not able to function anywhere near the capacity that we had previously. We are not the same people anymore.
-Be mindful of respecting space and boundaries, but don’t completely dismiss the fact that they might want to just do normal things. Ask, but still give permission for them to have an ‘out’ from social things.
-Bring meals and gift cards to help alleviate having to cook. It’s great if you offer to make frozen meals, or even just drop them off at the door. It might be hard to engage socially, so just be mindful and respectful, and give them choices. Offer to collect freezer meals, or arrange a MealTrain (again, check about if they want people to do drop offs or just one person to arrange all of the deliveries for them).
-Offer to grocery shop or have groceries delivered. The grocery store is a bit of a nightmare for people after loss. Unexpected people to bump into, wandering, being overwhelmed, physical fatigue. It took months and months to adjust to grocery shopping again.
-Mark your calendars for important dates to remember next year and in years to come. Send a card, a gift, or a text on those dates.
-Mark your calendar for 3, 6, and 9 months out and send a card or text just to remind them you are still thinking of them, praying for them, and that you know it is still very hard.
-Especially after the 3 month (or so) mark, a lot of family and friends “move on” and it starts to feel very isolating for someone still very deep in grief. Remember this. Their world stopped spinning. A few months is just enough for shock to wear off, and they need support perhaps more than ever.
-If you think of them, text them and tell them. Say their child’s name. They are thinking of them all the time already, and bringing the child up won’t make them more sad.
-Keep texting or calling on occasion, even if you get no responses. It’s so overwhelming to reply sometimes, but they are so meaningful.
-If you spend time together, remember to sit, listen and be present. Ask questions like “how are you doing today?” or “how have you been feeling lately? I know it is still so very hard.” Don’t press it. Don’t try to fill the silence. Don’t say things without thinking through what you’re saying. Never try to explain why things happened or talk about “at least”s. Don’t give advice. Don’t get into fix-it mode. Silence is okay. Don’t be afraid to say their loved one’s name (even for years to come). They are always missed and always on our minds, so it won’t hurt more to hear their name. Sometimes it hurts when people haven’t asked how we are or checked in on us. Silence can feel like a lack of care, although it often has meant people are just afraid to say something.
-Respect the fact that everyone’s losses are so different. Our losses of Clive and Winnie were completely different, and we handled them very differently. All loss is surrounded by trauma, and requires SO much time to work through. Shock, anger, fatigue, depression… these are all very common things after loss, and each person handles those things differently and finds different ways to cope.
-Respect the fact that they might not be able to be around you, your kids, and regular life. Friendships might be on pause, even for years. Stay supportive, but respect this boundary if that’s what they are needing.
A few other articles about helping grieving friends and family: