Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Help a Grieving Friend or Acquaintance

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.12When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.13Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.
Job 2:11-13


As a part of my closing thoughts, I wanted to include a list of things anyone can do to help someone who has suffered a tragic loss.  So many people asked me what they could do for others they knew in similar situations, and I emailed one friend this list and she suggested I publish it here.  I must preface it by saying everyone grieves differently, and people at different stages in the grief process would need help in different ways- but I think this is still a good starting point.  This was again, taken from an email I wrote a friend just off the top of my head.  I hope it might be useful to anyone who still reads this blog and wants to be of comfort to others.  No one who is grieving should expect all of the below from any one person or friend.  But in true humility- will accept any help offered at all and get what she/he needs from various sources.  What follows is the list from my email.


  • Write her a letter/card about how you'd like to be there for her and how you are thinking about her and wanting to help in any way. Receiving mail is always so nice.  The letter you first sent to me, for example, made me cry/was touching, but also uplifted me to know people were still thinking of us.
  • Offer babysitting if you can- (if that's practical for each of you)
  • If she's in the latter stages- invite her and her twins over for lunch or dinner on a Sunday (or other day- weekends are nice since families usually do family things on weekends and it can be very quiet and hard to think of things to do alone)- set a date- though- I hate when people tell me they want to have us over and then keep saying how busy they are and pushing it back.  And canceling is the worst.  everything in a widow's life is so delicately balanced- that's the last thing she needs.  Make sure your husband is there if he can be- it's nice for the kids who've lost their parent to be around a male figure and I hate feeling like friends tell their husbands to go so I don't feel sad/awkward.  I'd rather be around an intact family- not just women all the time.  In the earlier stages, I much preferred people coming to see me, rather than invites to their homes.  I actually received many invitations, but had little energy to attend these.  Meet people in the early stages of grief where they are.  Don't make them come to you- unless perhaps you will pick them up and drop them off at home.
  • Give her a gift card to a grocery store.  (not sure how her finances are- but this can be very helpful if she wasn't working esp)
  • Give her a gift card to a hair salon to get her hair cut and volunteer babysitting so she can actually go do it.  It's really annoying to widows when people keep telling them to take time for themselves when there is none.
  • Volunteer to go over her house with a bottle of wine or some goodies after her twins are asleep one night just to chat- night time is lonely and the time she used to catch up with her husband probably.  People grieving, esp. in the earlier stages, really need to retell the story again and again to process it.  Be someone who can sit and listen quietly in those early days, without needing to interject about yourself, pass judgement, or give advice.
  • Volunteer to help her with phone calls/errands related to the death paperwork- sometimes that can be so very hard (going to the DMV to change the car title,etc)  Or just anything else that is overwhelming her.  
  • If there are any other death-related things she hasn't done yet- buy a headstone, etc.  You could ask if she needs company on those kinds of errands.  It doesn't matter if you don't know her that well- sometimes that might be easier for her than someone she's close to.  
  • Offer to drive her to the cemetery- no one really offers that- but if he's buried- sometimes it's hard to go alone or drive because you're so upset. 
  • Make her a meal or buy something pre-made from Whole Foods type place.  Having the energy to make meals daily is one of the most difficult tasks for me...esp. earlier on.
  • Get a fun toy for the twins- it lifts a mom's spirit to see her child happy.
  • Send her a book or two.  A few books I found really helpful: CS Lewis: A Grief Observed   Grace Disguised by Jerry Sitter   Lament for a Son,  On Grief and Grieving, On Death and Dying.  You could tell her another widow you know recommended them so she doesn't feel you're just throwing books at her if you either recommend them or ship them to her from amazon.    
  • Finally- share your own life- highs and lows.  In the very early stages, someone suffering traumatic loss can't really think of anything but that loss and pain- and does not want to hear about anyone else's problems.  *But- later on, it gets extremely tiring always feeling like you're receiving or like people feel or you feel you have nothing to offer others.  Actually, and I believe this is very important-  the widow has a valuable perspective and a lot of wisdom won the hard way, and she'll feel useful if she can use it.
  • I think those are all things I would really appreciate or did appreciate- but every person grieves differently so of course I can't say for sure that these are exactly what she'd want.  It also depends on how far out she is.  If she's still in the early months- the gifts, gift cards, meals are nice.  A little later on, someone to talk to is nicer.  And throughout, better than gifts, things dropped off, etc. is always time spent with people- since it's such a lonely, isolating road.  


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