How to Help Someone Grieving

A Letter from the Griever

How to Help a Grieving Friend
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A Letter from the Griever 

Dear Friend:

As much as I would like to avoid the experience and death of a loved one in my life, it is inescapable and impossible. Jesus tells me in Matthew; “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” However, you can be one of those that God uses to help me along with the aid of the Holy Spirit as I must learn to grieve in healthy ways and work through my difficulties. You can also help me by following some of these suggestions:

Acknowledge and accept that I will grieve at my own pace. I may progress rather quickly, or very slowly. I will never move at the speed that you believe I should. Help me take and live my life one day at a time.

Keep me company and be there for me. You don’t need to say anything profound or do anything earthshaking. Most likely your greatest help to me is just your quiet presence and simple deeds to help me accept what has occurred in my life.

Please make suggestions and initiate contact with me and invite me to activities. It is important for you to respect my privacy and give me some time alone, but know that I may not have the energy to structure my life after my loss. It doesn’t matter if this death was expected to occur or as my grief and pain isn’t any less. I may need to rely on you to help me think of things that I don’t realize or even know that I need.

Provide me with a safe environment for showing my emotions. It may be very painful for you to witness but it will be of a tremendous help to me in my healing.

Help me to remember the good things. Share with me your memories of my loved one as you listen to me telling you mine. If I begin to show my emotions outwardly, you have not upset me, you have simply enabled me to be honest and safe in your presence.

Be there for me and my family after the first wave is over. The funeral and all that it entails was just the beginning of my journey. Please make the effort to call, to come by, to help me out three, six, nine and even twelve months down the road. Crowds may be difficult for me. Please understand that shopping and holidays may be overwhelming. Please offer me your help. If I am not up for a visit I will let you know, but let me and my family know that you remember and are there for every one of us.

Please listen to me. I need to tell my story over and over in order to process my grief. I may even say some very outrageous things but please don’t judge me by what I say or how I feel. I have a lot to work to get through, and in time, I will come to the answers that are right for me but please allow me the opportunity to find that answer.

Please be careful of using any clichés, religious platitudes, and all of the easy answers. You may not be able to help me with certain issues right now, so please don’t be quick to share your opinions if I say something you don’t agree with. I need time to work things out on my own, but with your gift of tolerance and acceptance it can be done.

Please be sensitive to my needs, be patient, have confidence and believe in me. I will get better, I will experience healing; but it will take time, and it will most probably be rough going for me on much of my journey.
Please be on the look-out for any destructive behaviors in which I might try and/or become entrapped in and dependent upon. My loss may lead me into depression, alcohol or drug abuse. I need you to keep an eye on me while things are especially tough as I process my grief.

Help me to find humorous diversions as laughter is good medicine for my hurting soul.

Please be willing to do difficult things for and/with me. I may need you to sit in court with me; I may need a safe place to be angry and express my rage; I may need help with planning the funeral or afterwards addressing all of the thank you cards. There will be some very hard times ahead and I don’t want to face them alone as it may be a very terrifying experience for me. Please accompany me on this journey.

Help me to find ways to bring good things out of the bad. It is important to me that my loved one be remembered and memorialized.

The more you know and learn about grief, the better equipped you will be to help me and my family. Read some of the books that are available and attend seminars, browse the internet and anything you can to learn about grief. I hope you never have to experience what I am experiencing now but in time I know that you will, and then I can be there for you.

Help me to find inspiration, a poem or song shared with me by you may quite possibly speak to me in ways that no one else can. Talking to someone who has survived a similar loss will help me to realize that I am not alone in my grief. Help me to create a support network that allows me to experience true healing which can only be found in God’s word.

I must go through this valley of grief in order to get to the other side. Dealing with it cannot be avoided. Help me to get through this by praying for me and my family. Your true friendship and companionship, your kindness and patience will help me get my life back together.

For the rest of my natural life, I will continue to experience some level of grief over the death of my loved one. Some days will simply be better lived than others. One day, I hope to reach a point where the good days outnumber the bad and that will become a major milestone in my life.

By following my suggestions you will be obeying the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:2, Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Thank you for being there for me and my family as we grieve.

The Griever

© Curtis D. Benjamin 2008

How to Help a Grieving Friend

The Bible instructs people to look after one another and to stay true to His Word.

However before we can really know how to help anyone in grief we need to understand the aspects of grief. Notice I said aspects and NOT stages.

Recognizing the Aspects of Grief

Pain can seem overwhelming and can be felt mentally as well as physically.

Fear is a common reaction to the increased sense of your own mortality and uncertainty about your future.

Anger is usually directed at the professionals who cared for your loved one, at other people, including family members the loved one who died and possibly, even God.

Feeling “crazy” – experiencing many emotions at once may make you feel that you are going insane. You are not going crazy – you are grieving.

Shock is a feeling of disorientation or disbelief common after a loss, especially if the loss is unexpected.

Panic sometimes accompanies the sudden change in lifestyle or relationships that you now face.

Confusion is common. You might feel disoriented and unsure of what will happen next. Uncertainty about future decisions is expected.

Responsibility may become overwhelming. You may feel responsible to care for or protect other members of your family. This is particularly true for parents who have lost one child while others have survived, or for children who have lost a sibling.

Loneliness may feel devastating. Evenings, weekends, and holidays can feel empty after a loved one dies.

Isolation is feeling forgotten when friends and family members no longer call, or when they focus their attention on other members of the family.

Jealousy is a common feeling when you see other couples together after losing a spouse, or when you see other parents who still have their children when you have lost yours.

Obsession with your loved one’s life is common, especially those final days before their death. Often people become obsessed with members or possessions of their loved one.

Hopelessness and helplessness may result in feeling powerless to change what has happened to your life or to control the events since the death of your loved one.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We know that God comforts with the Holy Spirit but what can we as friends of the deceased do?

I have taken the alphabet and created 26 things that are helpful. Some of these suggestions have actually come from people experiencing grief. For almost every letter there are more but these seem to be the most popular and are suggestions to help you get started in helping others. Helping a friend in grief is not easy as we must go out of our comfort zone. Otherwise we don’t understand what needs they have which are not being met.

A- Allow and avoid - Allow the grief to occur even if you are uneasy with it and avoid clichés.

Avoiding the Cliché’s of Grief

Cliché: “You must be strong for your children (spouse, relatives, friends, etc).”
Instead, try: Why not share your feelings with your children? Perhaps you can lean on one another and help support each other.

Cliché: “You’ve got to get hold of yourself.”
Instead, try: “It must be so hard to keep going when you’re hurting so much.”

Cliché: “You are holding up so well.”
Instead, try: “Would it help to talk about how you’re feeling?”

Cliché: “Time will heal.”
Instead, try: “You must feel as if this pain will never end.”

Cliché: “You’re young, and you will be able to make a new life for yourself.”

Instead, try: “You must miss your loved one and the life you had together; I do, too.”
What to Say What Not to Say
I’m sorry. I understand how you feel.
I’m sad for you. Death was a blessing.
How are you doing with all this? It was God’s will.
I don’t know why it happened. It all happened for the best.
What can I do for you? You’re still young.
I’m here and I want to listen. You have your whole life ahead of you.
Please tell me what you are feeling. You can have other children.
This must be hard for you. You can always remarry.
What’s the hardest part for you? Call me when I can help.
I’ll call tomorrow. Something good will come of this.
You must really be hurting. At least you have another child.
It isn’t fair, is it? She/he led a full life.
You must really feel angry. It’s time to put it behind you.
Take all the time you need. Be strong!

Don't use these scriptures either:

We know that that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

The Bible tells us that God won’t give us more than we can bear.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he
will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he
will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
I Corinthians 10:13

BBe and Birthdays - Be aware of any needed progress in the mourning process. This means you need to educate yourself and read about grief and how it will affect people. An example of being aware is: The mourner seems to be unable to move beyond their anger or guilt – suggest they talk to their clergy or a trusted counselor. Birthdays of the deceased also need to be remembered especially to the parents of a child, regardless of the child’s age

CCry, Comfort and Children - Cry with and comfort as needed. Be a friend that can be trusted and the mourner can sense that it is okay to cry in front of you. Don’t forget the children as they are also grieving. It is not good to shelter the children form the others who are grieving as this will make them sense that grief is something which one should be ashamed of and they will have an unhealthy response in alter years of their lives. Encourage that the children be involved as much as possible in the rituals of the families.

D- Don’t probe for details surrounding the death. If the survivor wants to talk, listen with understanding.

E- Embrace and Encourage - Embrace the grief of any survivor and don’t isolate. Encourage others to visit or help. One visit to the family generally overcomes the discomfort of not knowing what to say or do. You may eve be able to schedule some of the visitors so not everyone comes at once and is spread out to help with the mourning process of the deceased’s family.

F- Feelings - Don’t attempt to tell someone grieving how they should feel. Your relationship and experiences are different. You can ask (without probing) but you cannot know, except as you are told. Everyone, especially someone in grief, resents an attempt to describe their feelings. Example, “You must feel relieved now that he is out of pain.” Is presumptuous and “I know just how you feel is questionable.” Learn from the mourner; but don’t instruct.

G- Grief when new sometimes is very overwhelming to some. Offer to run errands or go to the grocery store. There may be times you are needed to go to the grave with the bereaved or possibly even a grief support group.  Some groups are DVD based and others are book based but both have the benefit of meeting with others who understand what you are experiencing.    

H- Hug, hush, and hang around - Hug, hush, and hang around. Sometimes that’s all you need to do and nothing more.

I- Invite your friend to accompany you for even small errands but especially to social events. Some mourners will isolate themselves as they lack the initiative to go out on their own.

J- Just be yourself. Show your concern and sorrow in your own way and in your own words, not someone else’s. Trying to be someone you aren’t will be sensed immediately. Everyone knows you don’t like being there. The mourner doesn’t even want to be there but is there a choice?

K- Keep in touch. Telephone once a week or so. Speak to someone close as to specific ways in which you can help. Some times there are specific needs but they are afraid to voice them especially if several are around. They may not be comfortable with certain people doing certain things for them, like laundry, ironing or maybe even mowing the yard.

L - Listen
Please Listen ~ Author Unknown

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen. Don't talk or do - just hear me.
Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper, and I can do for myself; I am not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy. But when you accept as a simple fact that I feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can stop trying to convince you and get about this business of understanding what's behind this irrational feeling.
And when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what's behind them.
Perhaps that's why prayer works, sometimes, for some people - because God is mute, and he doesn't give advice or try to fix things. God just listens and lets you work it out for yourself. So please listen, and just hear me. And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn - and I will listen to you.

M- Mail and Major - Mail Cards, notes, thinking of you cards. This is especially encouraging as grief makes one feel very alone and isolated. People believe they are the only one affected and that those around don’t care or have even forgotten. Major decisions, if asked or consulted about them, should be postponed if at all possible.

N- Never don’t express your sympathy or concern, always do it. Even if time has passed since it occurred and you just learned of the death it is still okay to express your concern. Also, if behavior is as such that the mourner is hurting themselves or their family, address it as the mourner may not even be aware of what is happening. An example would be someone who is becoming dependent upon alcohol to ease the pain. Encourage the seeking of help.

O- Offer and One - Offer practical help. Ask if you are needed to answer the phone, usher in callers, prepare meals, clean the house even sit at the house during the visitation and funeral. It may also be such things like polish all the shoes for everyone in the family or mow they yard. This type of practical help eases the burden of the family , helps the family and creates a stronger bond between you and them and they know and sense your caring. It is possible that some of the practical help may be needed beyond the initial period especially if the death was a spouse or there was some sort of situation where help is beneficial longer, such as serious car accident where other family members are hospitalized. One year anniversaries are very hard for many people – acknowledge it with a phone call a card or even making plans to be with the survivor for a portion of the day. Ask them what they want to do, but yet offer suggestions.

P- Pray - Pray for the family and everyone involved but also pray for God to show you how you can help comfort the family.

Q- Quiet - Quiet is OK. If the mourner doesn’t feel like talking don’t force conversation, Silence is better than aimless chatter. Allow the mourner to lead in what is wanted. It may make you feel uncomfortable but remember it isn’t about your healing from grief. It is about their healing from grief.

R- Realize – Realize your friend will have good days and bad days. Accept whichever one it is on any given day.

S- Special and Support - Special days and events in the life of the deceased will not be forgotten by the survivors. Acknowledge them and let them know that you too are thinking about the deceased. This gives them permission to discuss it even if it is only you and none else but again don’t force it. A prime example is the wedding of a child whose parent has died. The whole thing may bring tears but that’s ok as tears are healing. Encourage participation in a Grief Support Group. This allows the bereaved to connect with others who are feeling and experiencing or have experienced the same things they are. It also gives encouragement as in support groups there are all aspects of healing occurring NOT just what the mourner is experiencing. 

T- Treat the mourner and the family as normal people continually. Do this while they are experiencing grief and once there is a return to normal daily activities. Avoid pity for each person. Pity destroys self respect when simple understanding of the situation is adequate. Acknowledge the loss and the change in the mourner’s life but don’t dwell on it.

U- Use the name of the deceased and the relationship to the mourner in conversations when appropriate. This allows the grieving family members permission to talk with you as they realize you are not being judgmental and are not afraid to witness their emotions.

V- Visit and Valentine - Visit frequently – Either in person or by phone. Also, make yourself available to visit on special occasions. If it is a spouse that has lost their partner remember to do something for Valentine’s Day even if just a card, especially fi there are no children.

W- Write and Wedding – Write a letter or poem about what the deceased meant to your and give it to the family. Also, if a spouse, don’t forget the Wedding Anniversary either as most people are afraid to say anything.

X- and Y- Examine Yourself – Are my actions being a help or hindrance in my friends healing?

Z- Zero in on your friend’s needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is their grief, not yours!

In summary memorize Paul’s words, Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2. These are just suggestions but most importantly pray and listen to the Holy Spirit as to what you need to do to help your friend.