how to help someone who is grieving

Sheryl Sandberg recently shared movingly about what she has learned about motherhood through grief. But how do we help someone who is grieving?

We don’t know what to say. So, too often, we say nothing. Or worse, avoid.
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When my family suffered devastating loss years ago, it was our muslim neighbor who came to our house, and, without a word, kissed each of our foreheads in turn. I have never forgotten that simple, holy, beautiful action.

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Here are six things that I’ve learned about what suffering, grieving people need:

#1 There is no place for “should”. When my family and I were grieving I realized even grieving could become a “work”. I learned that I could trust even that to God–that he would help me grieve the way I needed to. Each person processes loss in their own way and on their own timetables. Our job is not to tell them how. Or when. Our job is just to be with them in it.

#2 There is no place for “but at least”. Don’t try to diminish or take away your friend’s pain. Don’t try to minimize or deny their feelings. Don’t try and make it better. You can’t make it better. But you can do this: be a witness to your friend’s full grief.

#3 There is no place for “that reminds me of”. Let your friend talk about their grief. Identify. But don’t try and compare your grief with theirs.

#4 Give grace–and more grace. Suffering can make people isolate. It’s just a symptom of the suffering. If you are turned away or ignored, be brave. Come back. Try again. They need you.

#5 Be practical. They may have no desire to cook a meal, but they still need to eat. You can take a meal, help with the difficult tasks, take them for coffee. Main thing is: be proactive. Get in and help. Don’t wait to be asked.

#6 Love them. Sometimes the most eloquent thing we can say is nothing at all. It could be just to weep with our friend. Or hold their hand. Or kiss their forehead. It’s not easy. It reminds me of what C S Lewis said: “It takes courage to live through suffering; and it takes honesty to observe it.”

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And actually there’s a seventh …

#7 It’s OK to be not OK. Are they struggling? Are they a mess? Are they angry? Are they holding on to God through this suffering? It’s OK. God is holding on to them, with hands far greater and far stronger than any of ours. Hands that won’t ever let them go–no matter what, through any storm, however big.

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{Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing}


PS. A picture book perfect for the grieving, a simple message of God’s love– FOUND: Psalm 23.


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