are burning stars
they shine brightest
on those darkest nights
Grief n. keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.
It’s hard watching someone grieve. We can feel helpless, unable to take away their pain and suffering. But let me encourage you that this is a season where your friendship can shine at its brightest, through this particularly dark night and beyond. Grief can seem scary and unpredictable, but those who choose to walk alongside a grieving friend with love and vulnerability, will find it to be a pathway to a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
There are many reasons why someone may be grieving; these include the death of a loved one, relationship breakdown, trauma, loss and many other situations. The most important thing we can do for someone in grief, is to tangibly show that we love them and that they’re not alone, that we’re walking alongside them.
This article is entitled ‘how to (intentionally) care for a grieving friend’, instead of ‘how to help someone get over their grief’ because honestly, you can’t help someone ‘get over’ grief. No one ever ‘gets over’ grief. Grief is a process and a journey only they can walk. But the love and support of those around them ensures they know that there are people who love them and are walking through the grief with them. It’s here that friendships can be strengthened for a lifetime.
What does grief look like?
While there may be common stages in grief, everyone does them differently and in different order. Ranging from moments of anger, shock, hope, fear, denial, panic, guilt, depression, acceptance, isolation, detachment and even bargaining, each person’s journey is unique.
You know your friend. Take note of their moods and any changes and don’t be alarmed if they seem angry at times or try to push you away. There will be days when they may not be fun to be around and it’s on these days you can show how much you love them by sticking by their side, showing loads of grace and continuing to walk alongside them.
What can I do right now?
It’s hard to ask for help, and even more so when you’re grieving.
A person who’s grieving often finds that their whole world is absorbed by the grief for a time so the best thing we can do is put ourselves in their way, making ourselves tangibly available and visibly present. Offers of ‘let me know if you need anything,’ are lovely but too indirect. On the other hand, an offer of, ‘can I pop over on Tuesday afternoon with a meal?’ or ‘can I buy you a coffee on Saturday morning?’ are perfect examples.
Shouldn’t I give them space?
Generally, when someone’s going through a hard season, it’s best not to assume that they need space, unless they specifically ask for it. Many people automatically assume that someone going through grief or a hard season needs and wants space. But often, it’s quite the opposite.
When people are going through emotional and traumatic experiences, they need to know who loves them, amongst all the mess. They often will sense rejection, even where it doesn’t exist. This is why it’s so important to not assume we need to give them space but instead, get into their space.
Sit quietly or chat. Ask questions or talk about everything other than the sad things. Drink coffee or walk. Or all of the above. Whatever they need in that moment, is what you need to provide, when you can. A folded basket of washing and a cup of tea can go a long way.
What should I say?
This can be hard. We often feel afraid that we’ll say the wrong thing. And this is where the courage comes in.
Will we be the kind of friend who is brave enough to risk saying the wrong thing and being scolded, in an attempt to continue to love and journey alongside?
Honestly, it’s better to say the wrong thing, than to suddenly disappear from someone’s life when the going gets tough. Having said that, here’s the best tip I’ve ever received, for situations like this:
If you don’t know what to say, say just that, don’t try to fluff your way around it.
Simply say, “I don’t know what to say, I’m so sorry this is so painful right now.” Sure, ask gentle questions when appropriate but make sure you listen to the responses and don’t try to fix anything. Remember, you can’t help your friend get over her grief, but you can walk alongside her as she travels through it.
When our friends are grieving, it’s an opportunity to show them how much we love them and value their friendship. Will we take up the challenge to walk with them through the season? Will we be brave enough to risk being rejected? If the answer is yes, get ready for a deeper, more meaningful relationship than ever before.
If you’re concerned for your friend’s wellbeing, contact Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or LifeLine 13 11 14.
– Photo credit: Timm Fleissgarten