Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Help a Grieving Friend

I recently checked out "How to Help a Grieving Friend" by Stephanie Grace Whitson from the library.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an inside look--at least a glimpse--into the life of someone grieving a great loss.  As I made my way through it, I sobbed.  She puts into words some of the thoughts that have swirled around my head for the last several months...I'm gonna go through and try to highlight a few of these things (it might get lengthy, you've been forewarned!)... The following are excerpts straight from the book.

Intro: "This book is my attempt to use what I have learned 'in the valley of the shadow of death' to help others avoid being well-meaning but clueless...Quick and easy to read, this little book will give you important insight into how it feels to experience a profound loss and then will offer you specific ideas on how to help."

"You will undoubtedly think that some of the more emotional entries are misplaced.  This can't be right...She should have been past this stage.  Guess what? Grief doesn't happen in neat little stages.  Please remember this when you help your friend.  Just when we think we are making progress, grief has a way of rising up and slashing us right through the heart all over again."

"If you become aware of a mistake you've made, apologize.  This is important: Don't stay away.  Don't stop trying."

At times, this has been true...
How It Feels
If one more person quotes Romans 8:28 to me--or some other comfort cliche--I am going to SCREAM.  I know Romans 8:28 by heart.  I can read it in Greek. And French.  It doesn't help.  All I want is someone to listen to my pain. And maybe give me a hug.  I haven't had a hug in a long, long time.

How to Help
Don't apologize for not knowing what to say:
Chances are, there isn't anything you can say that will really help.  Your hand on my shoulder, your hug, and your presence mean a lot.

Delete comfort cliches:
I know every cloud has a silver lining.  Remind me another time.  Hurt with me now.

Let Me Be Angry:
It may not make any sense at all, but some days I'm just mad--at people who still have what I've lost, at people who are too nice, at God.  Just let me vent.

Don't Expect a "Thank You" Card:
I just don't have the energy to observe social graces right now.  I am grateful.  Just know it. [this is something i've felt very guilty of at times]

Accept my New Quirks:
If I'm reluctant, don't push it.  Grief changes people--permanently.  I may never be "my old self" again.  But I just might be a better self if you give me some time.

How It Feels
I cannot listen to the sermon today.  I do not care about parsing verbs or premillennialism.  I know my hope is in the future.  My life is on autopilot while I wait for and anticipate reunion and eternity.  Certainly I am glad to know that someday God will wipe away all tears, for I have cried enough.  I should be content with "the everlasting arms"--but I am not.  If I say, "Not my will but thine be done" often enough, will I eventually stop wanting him back and accept his departure as God's will and therefore as ultimate good?  My heart is broken, my world has been destroyed...and the lesson today is on prophecy.  I don't know how I am going to get through the next five minutes.  I don't care about what will happen during the seven-year Tribulation.

How to Help
Accept No for an Answer:
It's exhausting pretending to be happy in a group so I don't depress everyone around me.  If I say no, it doesn't mean I don't want your friendship.  It just means I'm too tired to hang out right now.

Say the Name:
Nothing hurts worse than thinking everyone else has forgotten him or her.  It's comforting to know that someone remembers, even if it makes me cry.

Remember the Dates:
Valentine's Day, my birthday, his or her birthday, are going to be awful this year.  And then there is the new one: Death Day.  You can't change the awfulness, but knowing that you remember makes me feel less alone.

Send Flowers--Later:
It takes a while for the permanency of my loss to sink in.  I will probably need signs of your caring even more later.

Be Specific:
'Call me anytime' has no meaning.  'I can run errands for you from 10AM to noon on Saturday' means you mean it.

How It Feels
Not Being There is what I did last year.  I was not There because my Here felt too overwhelming for me to contemplate anything else...I was Here for him...I was not There for my friends...It was my year of Not Being There for my friends, but I was Here for my [child]...Could I relive that year, I would still choose Being Here for my [child] and Not Being There for a stressed friend.  I have wanted to scream the reality of what I went through to those who just don't seem to get it.  I have wanted to yell about catheters and skeletal bodies, about feeding nightmares and listening all night to labored breathing.  Maybe it would help them understand the way of my Not Being There.  But I don't want to reduce my beloved's valiant struggle to a contest of Who Had It Worse.  He deserves better.  So do I. I wasn't There.  My job was Here.  Please try to understand.

How to Help
Don't Ask If Things Are "Back To Normal":
Normal just isn't a word that describes any aspect of my life right now.  My reference point for normal has been ripped away.  In time, I'll get a new definition.  But right now, I don't know what normal means.

Be Suspicious of My Smiles:
I learned very quickly to hide my misery so I won't drag other people down.  Don't always believe my mask.

Accept My Tears:
Don't be embarrassed when I cry.  Tears are healing.  They must be shed.  Crying alone hurts worse.

Two months, six months, a year after my loss, I am still facing new hurts.  A note or an e-mail that tells me you know means a lot.

Celebrate Life:
If you appreciate life more because of my loss, tell me.  It helps me to know that something good is coming from all this hurt.

Then she includes a whole list of times to pray for me, while all of them apply, here are a couple:
...because the second year is turning out to be harder than the first.
...when it's been long enough that you think I should be all right by now.

To find out more about the author, visit
Also, none of the above is any new idea or anything on my end.  All credit belongs to the author and this great resource for those who want to know how to help those who hurt.


  1. i love how this author channeled her hurt into a book that can be so helpful to others, because it's really impossible to imagine living in that kind of pain till one experiences it. but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to help. wonderful insights. i might have to check it out.

  2. this was actually really helpful, and even echoed so many of our emotions that we have had along this journey.
    we love you guys and continue to hold you close,

  3. God bless you and a very big hug from a blog world friend.... continuing praying for you and your family.