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5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving

Today I am honored to introduce you to Susan Mead, an amazing woman I have had the pleasure of connecting with a couple of times this past year.  She has an incredible–and heartbreaking–story, one she shared in her recent book, Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace.  Today she is here at LWSL to share about a topic we don’t always want to talk about–dealing with grief.  If you’ve ever struggled to know what to say to someone who is dealing with loss, this is one post you will not want to miss!

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

This is a guest post from Susan B. Mead

Hello all!  I am Susan B. Mead, an author, speaker, chaplain and mom. I authored the book, Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace. Prior to that, I spent 22+ years in corporate America with Johnson & Johnson until I decided to retire 10-years early because I realized things get broken, discarded and replaced in life, but people matter…and I wanted to spend time with those who matter most. Why?

  • In 2004, I lost Bette, my younger sister and a brilliant PhD nurse, to suicide.
  • In 2008, I lost Kyle, my 20 year old college-aged son to drugs and alcohol on the last night of spring break.
  • In 2013, I was in the grandstands cheering on Amby Burfoot, my cousin, as he ran the 45th anniversary of winning the Boston Marathon, only to see the first bomb explode directly across the street.

Having experienced my share of grief, I learned God shines the brightest light in the darkest moments and shows up when we need him most. I simply want to share my journey to inspire, empower and equip others…You too can find grace in the midst of grief.

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

Remember That Your Words Matter

The first thing I learned when training as a Chaplain was that the most gracious words you can share when a friend is dealing with loss are “I can’t imagine…”

I can’t imagine dignifies their loss, their pain and their feelings. It also shows how much you care about your words and their dignity. Give your precious friend the grace you would want should you find yourself in their situation.

How do you give grace? Following the words I can’t imagine, here is the key point. Please do not be tempted to define their grief with your words. Insert no words such as pain, anger, devastation, hopelessness, helplessness, etc. Any word inserted is how you would feel and may or may not address their feelings.  So let a heartfelt “I can’t imagine” be sufficient, heartfelt and compassionate.

I care. You matter to me. I’m here to listen. You are in my prayers.
Yes, your words matter, so please choose them wisely. Your intention is to comfort your friend rather than wound them with your words, so pause a moment and consider carefully how you would feel hearing the words you are about to say.

Please be mindful and skip platitudes or words that minimize your friend’s loss and their feelings. Examples follow—God needed a new angel. They are better off. Have you heard about this person’s loss? Or I know exactly how you feel (please do not follow these words with a tirade about you or someone else).

Your words can offer your friend such comfort and peace. They will thank you for fewer words with deeper meaning!

Should your friend be dealing with a loss of a family member or friend due to suicide or drug/alcohol interaction or overdose, remember to not minimize the person or the loss of that person. God’s greater plan may take a long time to unfold, so please withhold any words that may be misinterpreted as judgmental on your part. We learn that we don’t always know God’s plan even when it seems so evident.

Here’s just a couple of examples I heard following my sister’s suicide:
I’m so sorry she committed the unpardonable sin. I’m so sorry she’s gone to hell.

Or this comment I heard at a friend’s son’s funeral:
Well, he was just a “druggy” anyway, so no big loss.

Can you imagine adding the burden of hearing those (or similar) words to your loss or your friend’s loss? None of us would intentionally speak so callously.

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

Remember that your actions matter

Consider what you would want your friends to do for you and do that! There will be a houseful of people who come to comfort their friend and family member, creating some different needs during the time immediately surrounding the loss.

The most obvious action is to visit your friend who is experiencing a loss.  Hug them. Take them food, whether a casserole, a pre-sliced ham, turkey breast or grab and go food, like a tray of sandwiches, veggies, fruit.

One precious friend brought a huge bundle of necessities. Yes, paper goods, i.e., toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, paper plates, plastic utensils, disposable cups, and cases of water! Can I share that this was the best delivery I received, as I was not stocked for masses of caring visitors? I welcomed each person and I most certainly welcomed “the necessities” when they were delivered. This gift allowed me to spend time with the friends who were caring for me versus having to become the caregiver in my time of need.

Reach out to your friend with a phone call to let them know you care. Do not expect a return call if your message goes to voice mail. Be brief. Why do I say this? There are so many folks who show up to help during a loss, that your friend may have visitors and does not want to be rude to you or to them. So consider what may be going on around them without questioning them. I was not able to think clearly, so if asked, I am not sure the best answers were provided. Your friend may also experience a change in their ability to process questions during their time of loss.

Has God put an idea in your head or on your heart regarding your friend? Follow that nudge! Simply take your friend what’s on your heart – it will be exactly right.  Please remember to not ask what they need, as they just lost what they need most – that person.

You may prefer to send a memorial, a plant, a tree or other pass-along plant in memory of their loved one. Have you ever considered planning a tree and sending a photo along with a card to show the newly planted tree if you are in their hometown and they are now from away, especially if you know that they would appreciate that gesture?

After I lost Kyle, my best friend told me that every time I saw a butterfly, I would hear Kyle say, “Love you momma,” and dragonflies, he would say, “Hey, hey momma!” because Kyle was such a cut up. Now when I see a butterfly, I hear God whisper, “Love you” or when I see a dragonfly, that God whisper is a chuckled, “Hey darlin.’”  You may “give” a similar gift to your sweet friend that becomes a cherished recollection too.

Is there a special thing associated with their loved one? Find a card with that image on it, i.e., heart, butterflies, dragonflies, cardinals, their favorite sports emblem or team, whatever, to send to them with a note about what you recall about that thing being special to them. Your note will be among their treasures!

Please remember to include your first and last name, return address, phone and email on the card itself. Envelopes can and do get separated. Invariably, that occurs when they will need your contact information to send you a thank you note.

It may be thoughtful for you to send a gift card or to even have pizza or another type of meal delivered a couple of weeks or months after their loss by a restaurant in their area (FIRST confirm they will be home & include the tip for the delivery person when you pay.) Food tends to be gone a few weeks after the loss as do the friends who were so very present immediately following their loss.

Do you cherish your family photographs? Yes? So do people who have experienced loss. They will not be able to take any new photos!  Do send ANY photos you have of their loved one.

If the pictures are digital, put the photos on a jump drive and mail to them. Or email them a shared folder with photos of their loved one in subject line. I received so many emails, many were lost in the deluge. The jump drive allowed me get to it when I was able versus losing the most important gift a friend could give me – memories of my loved one. This was the most cherished gift I received as new photographs are no longer an option. Should you find pictures later as you go through photographs, SEND them then! What an amazing gift of remembrance it would be to be given that gift sometime later!

Grief seems to “whack” attention span for many people. If you feel compelled to send a book, consider sending a short, easy to read book, not a heavy tome (sounds like tomb) or a huge saga (sounds like a sob). Your desire is to provide your friend with words that have meaning and that matter right now. So right now, their reading preferences may have changed from what they normally read.  Some avid readers find themselves experiencing challenges sitting still or focusing on words on a page as they grieve the loss of a dear one.

Don’t be afraid to speak the name of their loved one

Like honey, their loved one’s name is sweet to their soul. Hearing their loved one’s name is also like a cup of hot tea. It comforts. It also honors and pays tribute to their lost dear one. Please know that it will not “make them sad” to hear the name of someone they love(d) as love never ends.  It lives on in memories. So speak up!

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

Help them remember their loved one

Don’t you love it when we have memories that make us feel great? Memories help us recall the love of the moment and of the person.  Put reminders on your calendar with advance notice to reach out in remembrance at key times.  You may want to consider some significant dates, such as:

1st anniversary of their loss – send a card, a photo, a video, or something that honors their loss. They will cherish you.

Loved one’s birthday – such thoughtfulness is uncommon. Be that uncommon friend who cares deeply and is thoughtful beyond measure.

When you think of them – simply let your friend know you care, whether it’s a phone call, a text, a social media message, a handwritten card or even a visit.

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

Use your natural gifts

Caring shows in all you do and say.  It is so wonderful when we are able to use our natural gifts to bless someone, so think about something you like to do and simply do it for your friend.

Is praying one of your strengths?  Pray for your friend.  You may want to write them a note including your prayer so they see just how deeply you care about their emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Do you like to cook?  Stepping into the kitchen may well be the first thing you want to do.  Do it!

Do you have pictures, video or even old film of their loved one?  You may want to make a scrapbook, or load a digital photo frame with those sweet reminders of their precious loved one.  Should you have old photos or film, consider taking them to a service to have them digitized.  Can you imagine what a treasure that would be?!

Are you a storyteller?  Tell a story about their sweet, sweet loved one.  Whether you video it (with your cell phone-so simple!), record yourself telling the story (again, cell phones are pretty amazing technology) or simply writing your story about some cherished or fun or funny moment about their loved one will light up the moment they see, hear or read the story.  Share your story!

Do you like to use your hands to make things neat?  Offer to clean their house, mow the lawn, etc.  Can you imagine how appreciated that may be?

Are you naturally gifted at organizing things? Offer to help coordinate a meal for the family and friends before or after the service so people have a place to gather.

Or you may simply offer to drive folks to and from the funeral home and cemetery.  Why do I say that?  I got left at the funeral home following the viewing…Laughable now, yet people were headed to my house to gather for fellowship and food!  People who are mourning are so easily distracted that the normal process of going through the mental “checklist” to make sure everyone and everything is in it’s place may be compromised.

Remember, things get broken, discarded or replaced, yet people matter. Let your friend know that they matter…to you. Give your friend the best gift of all ~ the gift of your time.

 

Susan B. Mead is an author, speaker, chaplain and mom.5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence Susan authored the book, Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace, which hit #1 Amazon Hot New Release in Christian Grief on the day it released. Susan spent over 22 years in corporate America with Johnson & Johnson until she decided to retire 10-years early because she realized things get broken, discarded and replaced in life, but people matter… and she wanted to spend time with those who matter most to her.

 

5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving | Helping a Grieving Friend | Ways to Sympathize | Dealing with Grief | Art of Condolence

17 Comments

  1. jennifer
    May 18 at 07:24PM

    Thank you for this article! I never know what to say to a person grieving. I end up just usually saying, “I am very sorry for your loss or I cannot imagine your pain.” I always feel like I am not saying enough or coming across generic sounding. It is nice to know those are the words they need to hear. Along with letting them know I will be thinking of them and praying for God’s grace and strength!

  2. May 18 at 07:43PM

    Thank you for this post. Grief is such a hard thing to deal with. Over a ten year span, my husband’s best friend died at 21 years old, I lost my mom, my uncle, (my mom’s brother) my great grandma, my grandma (my mom’s mom) and my very close cousin just a few years older than me and my daughter started experiencing a mystery illness.

    The grief during that time was so overwhelming. Both my husband and myself being newly married didn’t know how to deal with it. So we sought out counseling. The counselor really helped my husband but told me something I would never forget. He said, my husband’s grief was more than mine because his friend died and it wasn’t expected that he should die. But my mom’s death was just the normal order of things. I didn’t feel my mom dying before her parents at the age of 45 had anything to do with the normal order of things.
    This counselor made me feel my grief wasn’t justified and my husband’s was. It was hurtful and I know he didn’t mean it but still the words people use do matter.
    I still remember being overwhelmed with food from others to help us get by until I got into a regular routine of cooking and cleaning for our household while managing my college schedule after my mom died. Those little things that others did really made a huge difference and I will never forget them.

    There

  3. May 18 at 11:32PM

    Thank you for this post! It is so necessary to let people know how to act and what to say. The most important thing is to not forget the one who is grieving. The most important time is not near the time of the death. But the next month, or 6 months, or even a year later. I lost my husband in July and was surrounded by everyone from sun=up until sun-up for days and days. Then one day they were all gone. It is so important to stay engaged for the months ahead!

    • Karen
      December 3 at 09:25PM

      This is so true. It is month 5 since hubby’s passing away and everyone thinks I ought to be okay and going on with my life. Grief takes a long time.

      • December 10 at 10:51PM

        I lost my husband 2-1/2 years ago, and I’m still grieving. I know people mean well when they tell you “let me know if you need anything”, but really…. that’s just adding to our burden. Through my loss, I have learned to just take a day at a time and do what I can, when I can. My husband was only 39 and left me with 2 small boys (9 & 3 at the time). I do well most of the time, but when I see that my kids are saddened over a memory, I lose it too. Some people seem to think that I should be over it by now, so I try not to inconvenience them with my grief. Only God knows my heart and what I have to go through on a daily basis with my little ones.

  4. May 19 at 06:30PM

    Thank you for this post. I addressed this same issue of grieving on my blog not long ago because I think so often people just step back and do nothing because they don’t know what to do. It is also so unfortunate when people feel they have to say something since the silence makes them feel uncomfortable, and it ends up being something that hurts the person who is already grieving, just like you pointed out. Often when I have been grieving, a hug would have been the only thing I needed. Thank you for encouraging us to be mindful during this time, it is so importance to love and comfort in grace at the time and in the future.

  5. May 20 at 03:55PM

    This year my best friend suffered a massive stroke at the age of 53. For the first few days, many believed she’d die. I was devastated and grieving for my friend who I was afraid would die. I told another friend and her reply to me was, “I never really connected with her.” I was so blown away at such a callas and heartless words it left me speechless. Many people just don’t know how to handle grief. Your words here are wonderful and I appreciate you sharing them with us.

  6. May 20 at 06:15PM

    So many great tips here, Susan. This is such an important post. As I shared on your site, my daughter is grieving right now and I don’t think I realized how much until reading this. You have inspired me to try a couple of these. Thank you! I think I’ll start by taking her out to dinner alone and chatting about some great memories of her dad. He’s been gone a long time, but those special days, like birthdays, really bring our grieving to the forefront again.

  7. August 14 at 01:41AM

    Beautiful article. So practical but not clinical. So heartfelt. I really resonated with what you were saying. As I was reading, I was racking my brain trying to think of who I could reach out to and show love and comfort. People are more important that things. It’s sometimes hard for me, as a task oriented person, who loves accomplishing things and marking things offer her checklist, to keep this at the front of my mind. This post is helping me to remember this!

  8. Jamie
    August 27 at 09:22PM

    Thank you for this post. I’ve recently been helping a friend through a horrific trauma and loss of a child to suicide. I think your nuts and bolts advice is helpful. Being present, bearing witness, listening and planting ourselves firmly beside someone in their suffering without saying a word can be the most powerful support when words won’t do. Presence over parlance is what I tell myself when I know there is absolutely nothing I could possibly say, let there be silence, it’s better to say nothing and just BE than to fill a perceived void with banter. One other thing I have learned, and there is a wonderful graphic on the web somewhere that illustrates this idea beautifully: co-centric circles with the bereaved in the middle and the layers of proximity of immediate family and close friends emanating out. The rule is, pour love inward to the members of the circle and express any frustration/seek your own support from those further outward. Know your place in relation to the trauma and respect your role in the healing. Things can get awkward and inappropriate for the grieving when drama comes out of nowhere in the outer layers of their sphere. It’s crazy how quickly people judge others even those who are bereft. Nutshell: It is a sacred time, tread certainly, lovingly and carefully.

  9. Meg
    October 19 at 02:42PM

    I have been dealing with the loss of my mom who was also my best friend. My dad died many years ago and my mom and I turned to each other, we shopped together, we went to the movies and we had such authentic and loving relationship that when she died two months ago I was left alone, not knowing what to do with myself, thinking I would not be able to recover from her loss, wondering if I would become another person, feeling distracted and so alone, so hollow inside. Then a friend invited me to go with her to a mountain house she has and I really enjoyed being in the mountains and we went for walks, and I was left alone with my thoughts at times, I could listen to music again, I cried and cried and then I began taking my mom along with me to places I knew she would have liked to go too and when I came back to my home I had received invitations to go to dinners and events and I decided that my mom would have liked me to attend so I went. But I was also afraid I would fall apart when I was there, I did not know how to behave but people who invited me were thoughtful and connected me with tender, sweet people and I was able to talk and share things not related to my motherś death, I made new friends and I think this is how my mother would like me to live the rest of my life because she was sociable and lively and had tons of friends. So, in her name I will not reject any invitation or event. I want her to be happy in heaven and not to suffer when I am suffering. I, of course, have stages of deep grief still. I don´t have my best friend on earth anymore. But I am doing the best I can to help myself. And friends and relatives are helping me too. I will always carry my mom in my heart wherever I go and I will continue her tradition of doing crafts at home for Christmas gifts, all the things we did together……sigh.

    • Anonymous
      November 15 at 01:49AM

      What a beautiful tribute to your mother.

  10. December 4 at 05:46AM

    This truly touched my heart and taught me so much. I will be sharing this post with my family, friends, and followers. Death and loss are hard to navigate. Thank you for showing us how to show up gracefully and authentically.

  11. Bobbie
    August 15 at 12:45PM

    This is a wonderful article. It’s so difficult to know what to say. Many times I just give a heartfelt hug.

    I would add only to let the grieving person talk about their loss even if you’ve heard the story a hundred times already. Everyone grieves differently and in their own time – some seem to bounce back after a short period while others grieve for a much longer time.

    • Ruth Soukup
      August 16 at 08:31PM

      That is so true Bobbie! Allowing someone who is grieving to talk honestly about how they are feeling can help them move through the grief process. And a hug is always welcome. 🙂

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