Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.
How can you be a better friend to a friend who’s grieving?
Being there when our friends need us is one of the most noble and helpful things we can offer our girlfriends. Life is going to hand us ups and downs and real friends stick around for those and everything in between.
Meet Amy. She’s a MOM. Loves her kids, loves teaching and preparing them for all the ups and downs that life may bring them. As you’ll see below, Amy has an incredible story about grief and the painful and profound lessons she’s learned in a very low, LOW time of her life.
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When my 5th child, Emily, died on February 10 of 2008, I became part of a “club.” It is a club no parent wants to join. It is a club where everything you dreamed about your future changes in a matter of seconds. And, despite the fact that others belong to this club, you feel very alone. This alone-ness is only magnified by friends and family who do and say nothing simply because they don’t know what to do or say. Grief is ugly and no one on the outside truly knows what to do with it, yet leaving a friend to herself simply because you are uncomfortable with her new normal is never the right answer.
So, how do you help a grieving friend?
1. Remember there is nothing you can say that will make her feel better or make her pain hurt any less. The sooner you understand this key point, the sooner you will be able to offer real comfort. Yes, you want to take this all away from her because you love her and hate to see her suffer like this, but grief isn’t supposed to be fun. Grief is supposed to hurt and it is important…let me say that again…it is IMPORTANT that you let her grieve. The best thing you can say right now is, “I don’t know what to say” and then give her a hug.
2.Don’t ask, “What can I do for you?” She doesn’t know. Especially in the early days, she will more than likely look at you as if you are a brick wall she has to scale. I was most blessed by those who picked something to do and then asked my permission to do that thing.
3. Don’t ask to take the kids for the day. (unless you know her well and know she would appreciate this) The LAST thing I wanted after losing a child was to lose them ALL to someone else’s house. I couldn’t even stand the thought. No, I wasn’t functioning real well, but I needed the children to be right there where I could see them and touch them. You’d do better to ask if you can come and watch the children at her house while she rests for a bit.
4. Do something that encourages the family to move forward as a family. It is very tough for a grieving family to begin making new memories that leave out the child who died. Consider doing something that encourages the family as a whole.
5. Avoid the common phrases that too often end up sounding flippant and heartless. Things like, “She’s in a better place now” or “She’ll never have to suffer the pain of growing up” hurt more than they help, especially in the beginning. Yes, I know she’s in Heaven and yes, I know that is the best place ever, but I hurt. Don’t kid yourself into believing that saying those common phrases somehow eases the pain. They don’t. They are better left unsaid because you can be assured someone else out there will say them.
6. Don’t compare your loss to her loss unless you’ve actually lost a child. Your dog dying, your grandma dying, your dad dying (no matter how close you were to any of them) just isn’t the same thing. My dad died 51 weeks to the day before Emily died. It just wasn’t the same kind of grief. They were both grief, but they were apples and oranges in how they felt. I would never presume to know what it feels like to lose a husband or a mother, and unless you’ve lost a child, you should never presume to know what that feels like. Instead of trying to sympathize by comparing grief, consider saying something like, “Grief is so painful. I cannot imagine how hard this must be. I am so sorry.” In this way, you are validating that what they feel is hard and doesn’t compare to anything else. They need to know that the pain they are feeling is okay to feel.
7. Ask hard questions, but in a loving way, and make sure you listen to the answer. Do not shy away from specifics when talking to the grieving person. If they’ve been grieving longer than a couple of weeks they will probably welcome someone who will ask them something other than the usual, “How are you today?” questions (because frankly, that’s a useless question because the “right” answer is always, “OK” and she is NOT OK.)
8. Listen to what information she does offer and brainstorm what you can do to help based on that information. Stress makes me feel like I need to control something and the first thing I always want to control is the clutter in my house. I had several friends who came to help me declutter for an afternoon here and there. Doing this made me feel as though I had accomplished something and I even managed to hold a normal conversation for an hour or so. (There will come a time when she will want to feel somewhat normal.)
9. Work behind the scenes. She doesn’t need to know or even notice what you’ve done for her. This is true giving of yourself.
10. Bring her child up in conversations and say her child’s name often. It hurts more to hear you avoid their name. I still keep a message left by friends on our answering machine on Emily’s birthday because they were one of the few people who said Emily’s name that day when they called with condolences. Most people just said, “We’re thinking of you today.” Which is great too, but not nearly as wonderful as hearing someone say, “We are remembering Emily today and missing her too.” You have no idea what it feels like to have your deceased child’s name and life begin to disappear from people’s minds. The simple act of remembering means more than you can possibly imagine.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
AMY – Wife to one, Mother to many. Read more about what life is like in a large Christian homeschooling family! RaisingArrows.net
For more girlfriend advice on how to support a friend during tough situations:
How to be a better friend to a girlfriend dealing with divorce
That’s why we’re here – to inspire you to BE A BETTER FRIEND – even, and especially, when life hands you or a girlfriend tough situations.
COMFORTING GIFTS FOR FRIENDS: HEALING BASKETS provides gifts to comfort and support the broken hearted. From sympathy, and loss to cancer, get well, divorce and caregiving. These gifts encourage, comfort and inspire.
What other tough situations would you like us to cover on Girlfriendology? PLEASE SHARE below!
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