On March 22, 2004, my dad died at the age of 49. I was five months pregnant with my first daughter (and my parent’s first grandchild). I had no idea how difficult the whole grief process would be. I made a vow to myself, I would someday share my story to encourage those who are grieving (but that is a post I haven’t yet written)! I also promised myself I would give some advice to those who are supporting others after a loved one’s death.
(My dad, one of my little sisters, and me)
Even after walking through grief various times and ways, I find it difficult sometimes to know how to help or what to do when a friend or loved one is experiencing loss. I took some time to look back through my journal to see what insight I could share with you and came up with these five thoughts for supporting a grieving friend:
1) Carefully consider your words.
I cannot tell you how many times I was wounded by the words of well-meaning friends and aquaintances after my dad died. I know it is so hard to know what to say, but I would very politely ask you to refrain from these phrases:
I know how you feel.
You don’t! I am me – you are you! The way we grieve is different, and it’s impossible for you to know how I feel!
I really like what Mary Beth Chapman says in her book Choosing to SEE:
“I’ve now read so many books on grief that I should have a degree, but you know what? There isn’t any one way to do it. My story isn’t yours and your story isn’t mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing people who are suffering and grieving have in common, at least if you believe as I do as a Christian, is the One who suffered for us. And the Father, who grieved for Him going to the cross, understands.”
You should be happy, your loved one is in heaven.
There is joy in that, no doubt – but there is also tremendous pain in that as well. You see, I want my dad here. It may be selfish, but I wanted him to meet my little girls. I wanted him to make me laugh and beat me playing pool. I wanted him to grow old with my mom. I wanted to see the amazing things God could do with his changed heart.
Yes, I rejoice greatly that he’s in heaven. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is not here with me. Let me grieve that my life will never be the same. I don’t get to hear his voice again. I don’t get to sit down and have dinner with him again. My “normal” is not normal anymore.
It was God’s plan.
I struggled greatly with anger as I grieved. It always broke my heart when people told me this. Really? This was God’s plan? He wanted my dad to struggle and hurt so badly? He wanted to take my dad away when I was pregnant – and I felt like I needed him most? I didn’t even get to say goodbye, and you’re telling me this was God’s plan?
I’m no theologian, but I believe all of this pain and suffering came about because of sin. Does God allow it and does He use it? Well, I absolutely think He does, but please don’t blast someone at the beginning of the grieving process with that statement.
As I’ve walked through the last few years, I’ve come to understand this was part of God’s plan – I can even somewhat accept it — but I still don’t have to like it!
You don’t have to speak. If you don’t have the words, just listen. Hold a hand. Give a hug.
As I mentioned before, I was sometimes angry and confused. I would send crazy emails to my best friend, and she never judged me! She didn’t tell me I shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. She just listened.
I can read those emails now and understand where I was – and my thinking wasn’t so clear, but she never tried to bang me over the head with the Bible or tell me to get over it. And I’m thankful she didn’t.
I needed someone just to listen.
3) Pray over them.
There were days when I couldn’t pray. It felt too intimate. Too painful. I felt abandoned. God seemed silent.
I’m thankful there were people praying for me. I’m thankful that people would pray over me. I didn’t have the words.
4) Talk about the deceased person.
I wanted more than anything to remember my dad. I wanted to hear stories about him. I wanted to know he was important to others, too. Sometimes, at the beginning of the grieving process, I would go to family events and no one even mentioned him. I know they just didn’t want to make me cry, but it still hurt.
Even now, I love to run into someone who knew my dad and has a good word or funny story to tell.
(I’m sure this doesn’t apply to all grieving people. Depending on the person’s relationship with the deceased, they may not want to talk about them. Just ask, and I’m sure they’ll let you know.)
5) Do not expect the grieving to end quickly.
This is huge! After the funeral, everyone was gone. But my pain went on…and on…and on. No one wanted to talk about it (after all, I should just be happy my dad was in heaven – see #1). No one asked how I was doing. I can remember crying every Sunday at church for two years.
Everyone’s process will be different, and the amount of time it takes to start feeling “normal” is different as well (not that I’m so sure you can ever return to the “normal” you felt before — but you adjust to a “new normal”). Please stay in touch with your friend. It’s important to let them know someone is thinking of them. If you see any signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, please encourage them to seek help — or find help for them!
It’s been seven years, but for me, the ache still continues. It’s a much different form, but I’m not convinced time heals all wounds. Maybe the ache will remain, because it reminds me we are not Home yet. It makes me long for the day when there will be no more pain and no more tears.
(I am not an expert or a doctor, so please just take this advice as it is written — from a well-meaning friend who has traveled the path of grief.)