The weight of sorrow can feel unbearable, but with compassion, understanding, and the love of God, it is possible to help someone who is grieving.
We all experience grief and struggle with it—and we all find ourselves supporting others who are grieving. Helping someone deal with grief brings its own challenges—and blessings.
When someone we care about suffers a loss, it’s hard to know what to do or say. Many of us are fearful of saying something that will add to the burden of grief. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a well-meaning comment that brings more hurt instead of helping us feel better. That fear—of saying or doing the wrong thing—can keep us from stepping in to help someone deal with their grief.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Supporting someone who is dealing with grief can also be a challenge when we’re experiencing the same grief as the person we want to help. Dealing with our own loss while we help someone else leaves us very little margin. It can be comforting to have someone to share grief with, but it can also add to our burden if we aren’t aware of the pitfalls.
Practical Tips for Helping Someone Deal with Grief
Ask for God’s help.
Only God knows what each of us is truly thinking and feeling. He knows me better than I know myself. We can assume we know what someone is going through by listening and watching, but that assumption can be a dangerous place to begin. Before we join someone in the grief journey, we must spend time with God in prayer. I always ask for His insight, and beg Him to put a filter on the words I say.
Remember that not everyone grieves the same way.
Sometimes the way we process grief is influenced by the way we were raised or the culture of the community where we live. Other times, it’s our personality type that dictates the way experience loss. Most often it’s a combination of everything. The bottom line is to make a deliberate decision to not judge another person’s, or even your own, way of processing grief.
Let the person grieving dictate the direction.
This ties in with the fact that not everyone grieves the same way. It’s important to take our cues on how to help from the person who is grieving—not from how we process grief. I remember when I lost my dad, a friend pulled me aside and tried to help me cope with my grief. She saw the fact that I was grieving privately—because that is the way I grieve—as denying my loss and refusing to face it. She tried to make me face my loss in the way she faced loss. Her well-meaning help was devastating to me. It made me believe I was grieving wrong and added a huge burden when I was already trying to process a difficult loss.
Often the best thing we can say is nothing.
So many times, our silence is truly a gift. By being quiet, we allow the other person much-needed space and the ability to share things as they come to mind. If we fill up all the time with words, the other person can feel marginalized. Silence is hard, but some of the best gifts we give others come from learning to do hard things.
Don’t try to fix the situation.
I admit it, I’m a fixer. Or at least I want to be a fixer. When someone is experiencing a loss, I have to fight the urge to rush in and remedy the problem—or at least make the situation better. That often results in doing things that add to the issue instead of helping.
So often the best way of helping someone deal with grief is by offering practical help. Our family faced a difficult loss several years ago and the first thing our community did was to create a food train and take the burden of fixing meals off our shoulders. We also had someone who was good at organizing take the burden of making lists of things that had to be done—from what we would need when we met the funeral director to what places would need copies of the death certificates. These small, practical, offers of help were truly a godsend in our time of grief.
Don’t shy away from the memories.
Someone very close to me lost his wife and part of his healing process was embracing the memories of her. Several times, his friends asked me if they could share a special memory of her. They asked because they didn’t want to add to his grief. But he loved talking with people who knew her and revisiting those precious memories.
Expect the ups and downs.
Grief is a messy process. While there are many articles about the five stages of grief, we must remember that those aren’t the five steps of grief. We don’t experience one stage, move on to the next and never return to that previous stage. Processing loss is more like untangling a knot, as opposed to topping a line of dominoes.
Don’t try to have all the answers.
Sometimes the best way to support someone who is grieving is to know our own limitations. During our time of loss, our church set up a fund to pay for any outside counseling our family members needed to process the grief. The fund was administered through one of our pastors and allowed us to get the professional help we needed.
3 Possible Pitfalls of Helping When We’re Grieving Too
- Projecting our own feelings onto the other person. When I’m grieving, I lose my perspective. At that point, it’s easy to go one of two ways—and neither extreme is helpful to anyone.
- Dominating the conversation. If we tend to process life out loud, it’s easy to take over all the conversation. This is not helpful.
- One-upping the person grieving. Something I’ve picked up through the years, is the habit of connecting with someone by sharing a similar experience. This can be a good thing, but only in moderation. It can quickly turn into a well-let-me-tell-you-how-much-worse-my-situation-is situation. When we experience loss, it often seems like no one else can possibly feel the depth of what we’re feeling. In some ways, that deep grief is a way of honoring those we’ve lost. When someone minimizes feelings by explaining it could be worse, it takes away some of the meaning of their grief. When our family member who lost his wife talked about his grief, I carefully shared my grief so he didn’t feel alone. However, not so much that he felt like I was minimizing his own feelings. It’s a difficult line to walk, but so important.
Helping someone deal with grief is a wonderful gift we can give others. But like any gift, we must let God dictate the way that gift is given. When we allow God to guide our words and actions, He can provide great comfort and support to those we love.
©2023 Edie Melson. All rights reserved. Used by permission.