I wish I had written about this in my book.
But honestly I really hadn’t lived it until this year. As I walk through my own losses and alongside others who have experienced a variety of loss, I’m seeing that people (including Christians) just don’t know how to handle it. I know I’ve grown a lot recently in my understanding! We all have good intentions… but few understand what’s truly needed.
I’ve had my fair share of “foot-in-mouth” moments over the years and even a few recently, but here are some things I’ve learned along the journey…
Don’t be silent about the loss or wait for them to bring it up.
Acknowledge the loss and mourn it with them. Keep asking how they’re handling it… it will change over time.
Popular opinion is that bringing it up will remind them of the loss. Trust me, they’re already thinking about it daily… and wishing someone would mention it. Even if they look like they’re over it or doing just fine, bring it up in quiet moments. Allow them the option to talk about it or not talk about it in the moment. (Sometimes it’s just not the place or time.)
If it was the loss of a person, say the person’s name. Continue to honor the person’s life. Imagine together what it would be like if the person was here. Do this for the rest of your life.
Avoid silver lining or comparison talk.
(For example: “At least your severance is better than others got.” “God has another job for you.” “There’s hope for another child.” “At least you didn’t lose your baby later in the pregnancy or after he was born.” “He lived a lot longer than a lot of people with this disease.” “He had a good long life.” “We know he’s in heaven.”)
Don’t try to find magic words to make them feel better. There are none. Although your statement may be true… it’s not particularly helpful. Chances are the person grieving has already thought of these things. They’ll feel your support more if their loss is validated.
Allow the person to talk about it. Or sit in silence. Mourn with those who mourn. Ask how they’re processing it, and then empathize and affirm what they’re feeling… trust me, that’s the best thing.
Don’t put your timeline on the mourning or think they’ll get over it.
(“Gosh that was years ago, why is she crying? When will she move on?” “It’s been a couple months, I’m sure she’s handling life just fine by now.”)
Recognize the loss will always remain. The experience will change but it will never go away. A new child doesn’t replace another. A new spouse doesn’t replace another. The loss is still felt.
Offer to help months down the road. The change will be felt and need to be adjusted to in countless ways for a long time.
Remember, even if you went through something similar, you don’t understand completely.
Reach out to offer your friendship, but listen more than you speak. Share your story if asked, without comparing.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is a good starting point, but don’t stop there.
That’s really sweet, but it’s better to offer specific tasks.
(With every loss, there is a ton to do and a ton to think through… Yet the ongoing task of grieving takes up time and energy, and is demotivating to the rest of life. It also clouds people’s thinking. They’re in survival mode. Chances are someone in crisis or mourning isn’t going to have organized thought-processes enough to figure out what she needs and remember who to ask (or feel comfortable doing it.)
Reach out and ask if you can bring a meal after others stop bringing them. (Then only go in if invited.) Ask if you can mow the lawn. Ask if you can put on a low-key girls night (tentative to the person feeling up to it). Plan something to honor the person on anniversaries.
Check yourself to make sure you’re not turning the person into your personal project to make yourself feel good.
Treat them as a friend, not a charity case. Allow them to do for themselves what they can and want to do. Allow them to just be and have fun if they’re not up for talking about it seriously in the moment.
If we forget everything I wrote here, it’s ok. As long as we remember that God calls us to, “mourn with those who mourn” (and remember that mourning is a long process), then we’ll be off to a good start.