I gasped for breath, and my heart sank to the soles of my feet as I stared in disbelief at a comment on social media that told me a child whom I had grown to love was now in the presence of Jesus. For ten years I had the privilege of walking beside his family as they traversed the highs and lows of his complicated medical condition. We all knew he would eventually succumb to the disease, but not even his doctors expected this turn of recent events.
I grieved his absence, rejoiced in his healing, and agonized over how best to support his family going forward. What should I say? What should I do? What should I avoid saying or doing? What if I say or do the wrong thing?
Grief is a long and winding journey that doesn't end until we are reunited with our loved ones in eternity. So, how should friends and family come alongside those experiencing the fresh pains of grief, and as time marches forward, the days spreading out over months and into years?
Here are ten ways to support someone you love on the long and winding road of grief:
Pray for their comfort, peace, and strength to face the days ahead. Pray that God would give you wisdom as you take this journey with them. Prayer is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone you love. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.
Let them know you are thinking about them and that you care. Be an active presence in their lives.
3. Offer a listening ear
Allow the person to process their thoughts and feelings out loud in whatever way they need to.
4. Embrace the silence
It can be hard to know what to say in times like this. Don't feel like you have to fill the silence with platitudes. There is power in the ministry of your presence. Scripture offers us a poignant example. In Job 2:13 we see the response of Job's three friends when they heard of his tremendous suffering. "Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."
5. Ask what they need
Someone who is grieving may not know how to answer this question right away, but don't stop asking. Eventually, they will be able to tell you something. It's better to ask than to assume that you know what someone needs. As time progresses, it could be helpful to ask what gestures or words they find most meaningful, and what they wish people would do more or less of.
6. Consider how you can meet practical needs
Walking through grief is exhausting. Providing for things like child care, food, toilet paper, and other necessities throughout the first year can be helpful. When providing a meal, seek to be mindful of any food sensitivities, and use disposable containers so that dishes do not have to be washed or returned to you.
7. Don't be afraid to talk about the person who passed away
Often, one of the greatest fears of the surviving family is that their loved one will be forgotten. Hearing their name, and having the opportunity to talk about their loved one with you, knowing that you remember can be comforting and bring joy.
8. Follow through on offers and promises
If you offer to keep in touch, or invite someone over for dinner, follow through. Your invitation might be something they are looking forward to.
9. Remember important dates
Set a reminder in your phone or day planner marking birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Consider reaching out in simple ways. A text, a voicemail, or an email can mean a lot. It's comforting to know that others haven't forgotten them.
10. Be patient
The journey of grief is arduous. It is different for every person. It can take more than a year for someone to get through the hardest parts of grief. Your patient, steadfast support is invaluable.
If you are walking beside someone who is grieving give yourself grace, and make sure to take care of yourself as you seek to care for them. If you could use some support on the journey, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our trusted counselors here at So That We Biblical Counseling. We would be honored to come alongside you.