The loss of a loved one is an event for which we can never be prepared. Regardless of the timeline, or circumstances surrounding the passing of someone we care deeply for, the process of grief is both common and unique. In so many ways, our grief will walk us through a variety of stages that include; denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, the individual steps will be filled with experiences and longings that are unique to you as an individual, and related to the person who you lost.
Reminders are everywhere; from their favorite food, to their favorite song. Maybe it’s a shared activity, or even a whiff of a fragrance that catapults your conscious mind down an unrelenting cascade of memories and emotions. Regardless of the trigger, our emotions are set on edge and our thoughts are captured. Grief is an all-encompassing experience, and without help, can lead to a devastating end.
I’ve already written an article discussing some of the factors that prevent depressed people from getting the help they need, but the suddenness of the loss of a loved one can set us on a course destined for depression that we could never see coming. And just like the loss, our depression happens upon us without warning, and sometimes, without hope of climbing out.
One of the more important factors in a healthy grieving process is the presence of an individual or individuals who care for those who are grieving and act as advocates on their behalf. The impact that these friends can have on those who are suffering is substantial because they are able to offer glimpses into the world that are often veiled by sadness and eventual depression. These advocates offer encouragement, compassion, and empathy so that those who have suffered loss don’t have to walk this road alone.
If you find yourself supporting a grieving friend, here are some helpful guidelines for you to follow.
When we acknowledge the reality of the situation and pain that our friend is enduring, it helps them engage the grief process in a healthy way. Yes, the grieving process is healthy, and needs to be engaged in order for the sufferer to be able to emerge on the other side instead of getting stuck on one of the 5 stages.
Make sure that any assistance offered is something that can actually help the individual make time for their grief, instead of compounding their activities and schedule.
You can offer to: mow their lawn, take kids to school, volunteer at church/school/community in their place, bring food, or just talk. Make sure that you offer these services, instead of demanding that you be allowed to do them.
Nothing is worse than the goofy philosopher that tries to undermine the grieving process by regurgitating some empty cliché instead of simply being present in the moment.
Romans 12:15 teaches us to Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. So be willing to sit there and weep with them. It’s fascinating to me that we don’t get this. The more I engage those who are hurting, the more I hear their friends and family say meaningless stuff to them. Don’t be that guy! Even Jesus, when confronted by the loss of his friend Lazarus, wept in his own sorrow (John 11), and nobody came up to him and tried to remind him, “Lazarus is in a better place.” Or “At least he’s not hurting anymore.”
Maybe just sit there and weep with them.
But don’t forget to be ready to rejoice with them too. When the time is right, and the bereaved begin to laugh again, don’t stifle that laughter by reminding them of their situation.
Being present means being tuned into their struggle, and putting aside your emotional comfort zone, to share in their journey.
This is a grieving process. It won’t happen in a day. If someone says it did, they lied. They are still in the denial phase. They will struggle through a variety of emotions and engage memories that force them to deal with things they never though to be relevant. They may even move back in the process a time or two…and that’s perfectly okay! You have to remember, you are not their savior.
Your job isn’t to, “Get them over the hump,” it’s to be with them as they walk.
It’s going to take some time.
The last thing I would encourage you to do is to make sure you don’t do this alone. When you take on the role of advocate for your friend, you may encounter some of the same processes that they are engaging. Such a phenomena is common, and should be acknowledged. Be open to conversations about how your interaction with your grieving friend is affecting you, and hear other people’s observations with some openness and grace. They are most likely not attacking you, they are probably trying to do for you exactly what you have done for someone else, even if they go about it the wrong way.
If you would like more detailed information about helping people through grief/loss process, you can find it here:
Breaking Through the Clouds (A novel about finding hope in the midst of profound loss)
How to Help Someone Who’s Grieving