Recently, a friend came to me asking how to help a grieving loved one who had lost her 6 month old baby. As I prepared to write her back, it occurred to me that these thoughts may be of value to anyone in this position - thus, the purpose of this public blog post. While I think it would be impossible to come up with an exhaustive list, my thoughts may at least help guide in the general direction.
When you have a grieving friend:
- Don't hesitate to talk about the person who has passed away. My sister LOVED to talk about Enzo - and she still does. When people deliberately avoided his name, she felt they weren't respecting his life. The pain was there when she would talk about him; but it hurt more when she didn't or felt she couldn't talk about him. It was one way of expressing and working through her grief.
- Initiate taking care of their practical needs. Sometimes the most brainless and mundane tasks become impossible to a soul paralyzed by grief. Start driving their kids to school, making them dinner once a week, or cleaning their bathrooms. After Enzo's death, one friend of my parents' came over, picked up their dirty laundry and brought it back later that day all clean and folded. The thing is, if you have a specific idea for how you can help, tell them you want to - and if they will let you, do it. Simply asking, "how can I help you?" - although well meant - is a question they may not be able to answer. Not only are they overwhelmed by everything, but some may fear being a "burden" on others
- Be there AFTER all the activity has died down. Many, many people will surround the family in the activity of the initial shock with the funeral, meals, etc. - but there comes a time where inevitably, people move on with their own lives. Kate once said that at the very beginning (during all that activity) you can feel numb and not realize the depth of the loss. But soon there comes a time when the grief is unbearable - and this is when others have moved on. This is the hardest time. "How dare the world continue to turn when my heart hurts this bad?" Also, remember that grieving looks different for everyone. I personally found it helpful to research the stages of grieving BUT those are only a helpful tool - you cannot put people in a box with their grief, and it WILL be unpredictable.
- PRAY FOR THEM. This sounds cliche, but truly it's the only thing to do when you can do nothing else. Ask God to give you pictures, words of encouragement and scriptures you can pass along to your grieving friend. One time I was praying for Kate as she was in her lowest valley of despair. I asked the Lord to show me a picture of her heart. And He did! It was of a very, very black night, but I could make out the shape of a low flat grassy hill. As I watched the horizon over that hill, I saw the sun very slowly begin to rise and give light to the entire world. I felt the sun was going to rise in her heart again soon - and when I told her this, she clung on to it.
- Keep reminding them of the truth that God loves them and has a beautiful plan for their lives. Give them hope for the future, but acknowledge that right now they can't see it. Even when they don't feel it, the reminders will sink in and pave the way for the truth to take root in their heart after the lowest valley has been conquered. Know that you don't have to answer their questions - chiefly "why?" - but you can just sit there and let them ask them anyway.
- Finally, sometimes it's okay to just be silent with them if you don't know what to say. Cry with them. Let your heart break with theirs. Avoid saying things such as, "He is now an angel in Heaven" (NOT true anyway, according to the Bible), and "God just needed him up in Heaven more than you needed him here," or (for miscarriage and stillbirth) "Maybe there was something wrong with the baby and God spared you from it." While most people are well intentioned when they say these things, they are insensitive, ignorant of truth and don't help the situation at all.