I’ve Been Thinking: Encouraging a Grieving Friend


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! 

2)  Listen.

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.)


About Stacie Nelson

is the creator of MotherhoodOnADime.com. She is passionate about encouraging moms and giving them creative, yet simple, activities to do with their children. A bargain-hunter by nature, she enjoys sharing deals and freebies.

She also loves extra dark chocolate, jogging, writing, cooking dairy and gluten-free, and attempting to declutter her book-filled rooms. Faith and family are her top priorities, and she seeks to encourage others to live life on purpose.

Comments

  1. Terri says:

    Thanks, Stacie, for your transparency and compassion! I felt so loved and supported by you when I was grieving.

    • Stacie says:

      I don’t know that I did much for you, sweet lady! But I’m thankful you felt that way…even in my bumbling ways!

      It’s always a struggle to write about something so personal, so thank you for your encouragement!

  2. Julie says:

    That is beautifully written and very good tips for us all on ways to possibly help others.

  3. We happened to be in Kansas a couple of weeks before Rick passed away. As bad as he felt (and I know he felt terrible), he still played a couple rounds of pool with Riley. Only your dad would take the time for that! His funeral was the first funeral that Riley was old enough to realize what was going on (age 10). I vividly remember him breaking down and crying uncontrollably after we walked past the casket. After he calmed down a bit, he looked at me and just said, “That isn’t uncle Rick in there.”

    • Stacie says:

      I didn’t know that! How fun! I love remembering my dad playing pool…the bad thing is, I could never beat him…and he wasn’t one to let me win either!

  4. Tina W says:

    I don’t know how you feel, but I too lost my father-in-law in 2003 at the age of 48. It was 1 month before our wedding (12/27/03) and Christmas. What you said is SO true. I still struggle to this day with “Gods Plan”….and honestly probably will till I die.

    • Stacie says:

      Tina,
      I didn’t realize…one month before your wedding. I’m so sorry.

      I’m sure he would adore that little girl of yours. For me, that is sometimes one of the hardest things. I try to make sure my girls know about Grandpa Rick, but it’s hard to help them understand who he was and what he meant to me. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

      Hugs to you!

  5. Carol says:

    This was very helpful, seeing that I am not the only one that still hurts years afterwards. My dad died when I was 9, after my parents got divorced. I still cry and get depressed every year around the time he passed away. It really hurts when people who still have both parents don’t understand the pain one goes through when someone that close dies, no matter what the greivers age is.

    • Stacie says:

      I’m so sorry, Carol. That had to be so hard at such a young age. I completely agree…the hurting doesn’t go away…no matter how long it’s been — it changes your life forever. Praying you’ll have plenty of people to talk to and help you through those days when you’re feeling depressed.

  6. So much of what you wrote is exactly how I feel. My mom died at the age of 49 when I was pregnant with my first child (her first grandchild). My son was born (a preemie) 10 weeks after she passed. (God knows what he is doing though – my son was born a couple days before Mother’s day and gave us some “life” to celebrate on the first Mother’s day without mom – and everyone since!) My mom was an amazing woman of God and I KNOW she is in heaven with her Saviour. But, that doesn’t take the pain away. This coming Feb it will be 5 years since she has passed. I have recently moved back to my home town (the town she lived for 25 years) and I love running into people who tell me I look/sound like my mom. I have returned to the church I grew up in and that she was a big part of…I cry in church often just remembering her sitting in her “normal” spot… My younger sister (who was 13 when our mom died) is the opposite of me. She hardly ever cries and she gets angry when people talk so much about Mom. We are obviously at different places in our grief journey. But, you are right when you say no two people grieve the same. Thanks so much for sharing your story it really touched me :)

    Blessings!
    Robyn

    • Stacie says:

      Thank you so much for sharing! I’m marveling at how so much of our story sounds similar. We moved back to my hometown about 2 years ago…and it is so strange to be back here without my dad.

      I completely understand the crying in church. I think it took me almost 6 years before I didn’t cry every Sunday in church.

      Someone once told me that losing a loved one is like losing a part of your body. You learn to adapt to life without it, but you’re never the same. I’ve healed in some ways, but I know the ultimate healing only comes when we get to heaven!

      Blessings to you, sweet friend.

  7. Currently my dad is terminal and I have already begun to grieve as I think about him no longer being here. No one understands and I feel so alone at times. Thankfully I do have a blessed hope to see him again. When I said ‘goodbye’ to him it’s always “here, there or in the air!”

    • Stacie says:

      Hi, Cindy!

      I’ve been praying for you — that is such a tough situation knowing that you probably won’t get to see him again before he dies. Please feel free to email me if ever you just need someone to write to. I know it was so helpful after my dad dies to have a friend that just listened and didn’t mind all my craziness!

      Praying for strength and encouragement.

  8. Michelle Fountain says:

    Hi Stacie,
    My name is Michelle Fountain and I to lost my best friend and my hero on August 17, 2011. Daddy had a massive heart attack and I was with him when it happened. I did CPR until the ambulance came and they took over. One hour and forty five minutes later by world literally stopped turning because my daddy was gone. The pain, the hurt, the emptiness and the anger are still so fresh with me. I to wanted my daddy to watch my son who is eight to grow up into a man. I to needed and wanted him in my life for all of his wonderful words of wisdom. I know people mean well when thry tell you time will heal and life must go on. But is still does not stop the pain I feel everyday from him not being with us.

    • Stacie says:

      Oh, Michelle…I am so sorry. Your story brought tears to my eyes. Your pain is so recent. I wish I could reach through the computer and give you a huge hug. I know there really are no words, and it is an arduous journey through the grief.

      Thank you for sharing your story. Please feel free to email me if ever you just need someone to listen.

  9. Michelle Fountain says:

    Hello Stacie,
    I was wondering how did you get through the holidays without getting depressed? I was ok with Thanksgiving, but with Christmas I can feel the depression coming on. You see, my Daddy lived with myself, my husband and my son. I lost my Mom four years ago to cancer and I was blessed when Daddy came to stay with us shortly after Mom passing. He was always the one who helped me make sure my son Max (named after my Daddy) was ready for Santa on Christmas morning. As Christmas Eve nears, I feel the absencence of him even more. My heart hurts and all I want is to talk to him again. I pray every night for him to come to me in my dreams, but four months later it still has not happened. Anyone who knows me, also knows that I am a VERY strong woman but when it comes to the lose of my Daddy I feel so weak.

    • Hi, Michelle,
      Your pain is so fresh — I know it is such a hard time of year to get through. I think mainly you give yourself grace — celebrate when you can, but accept that maybe you’re not going to feel like celebrating. I remember how hard those first few Christmas’s were. And it felt like no one wanted to talk about how much things had changed, and no one shared any memories or even talked about my dad. That really hurt me.

      A couple of things that help me — to keep exercising and trying to eat decently, to talk to my husband about what I’m feeling, and to pray. And sometimes when I can’t pray, I just sit quietly and listen to music or just cry — and remember that I’m going to make it through. A journal is really helpful, too.

      I wish I had some really wise words for you, but unfortunately I don’t. It does get a little easier with time, but I still miss my dad and would love to get one of the silly gifts he always gave me!

      I’m praying for you today — and I will remember you tomorrow.

  10. I lost my day suddenly at the age of 63 in July of 2003. It took a long time for my mother and my family to find a new normal. I found out I was pregnant 2 weeks after he died. My kids (I now have 4) never got to meet their grandpa but in march of 2010 my mom remarried. My kids were blessed with a wonderful pap who loved everyone of them like they were his. In July of 2011 he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. He fought with everything he had but it took his life in November. Two days after my moms birthday. He was 56. God is faithful and gives His peace. It is very hard to deal with for myself and my kids. I can’t even begin to imagine how my mom feels. You would be shocked if I told you the things people have said my mom. I am not sure a person every really gets over the loss of a father (or 2) I don’t think it gets easier with time, I think it is just a horrible reality that we have to live with until we are reunited. The thing that does help me some is knowing that they were two men who worked very hard and suffered in the end and they are finally at rest with our Heavenly Father.

    • Stacie says:

      Erica — I am so sorry. These words are so true — “I think it is just a horrible reality that we have to live with until we are reunited.” I’ve been able to find some peace as the years have passed, but I still wish every day I could just talk to him or see him for a while.

      Thank you for sharing your story. Praying for you and hugs to you.

  11. Erica- I have just come across your blog (I love it). I so appreciate this posting. My son was killed a car accident 6 yrs ago. He was 25, married and had 3 children, they were age 6,4 and 10 months.
    A lot of times people would say: at least he left you with 3 grandchildren ( like that makes it all worth it).
    I also hate when people would say; I’m so sorry for your loss or they would say: I’m sorry that you lost your son ( folks he wasn’t lost, I knew right where his casket lay in the ground, and I also knew he was in heaven with our heavenly father.

    Now that I have vented a few of my pet peeves. I hope people will watch their words. I also agree that it is the sins of this earth that cause our young, good and the ones who do not deserve to die, to go sooner than they should.

    Thanks for sharing your loss, grief and love with all of us.
    I will continue to pray for the ones who suffer grief.
    God Bless you for your encouragement, support and all of the work you put into your blog.
    You have blessed me today.

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