How can you help a grieving friend?
Grief is what your friend feels in a variety of experiences, whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, or a move that has taken them far from familiar faces and places.
Over the years, I’ve learned some lessons on how you can help your grieving friend. In this post, I’ll share three of those lessons; in another, I’ll share three more.
First: Listen to your friend . Some people make the mistake of showering grieving friends with “explanations” or consoling words. But what grieving people most need is to be listened to. Their loss needs to be acknowledged.
In the Old Testament book of Job, a man grieves when he loses first, all his sources of wealth and then, all of his children, in a natural disaster. Three friends come to visit Job. Initially, they listen to him, allowing Job to express his agony, his questions, and his anger. Then, they open their mouths. My biggest mistakes in trying to help hurting people have never come from listening. Often, we best communicate our love and support to others by keeping our mouths shut.
Second: Don’t try to talk your friend out of his or her grief. Some people think that they need to give the aggrieved person a “pep talk.” But usually, such talks make the talker feel that they they’ve done a good turn, while doing nothing for the grieving person. A woman’s husband died. At the funeral home viewing, a man decided to “cheer her up.” He said, “I know you feel bad now. But you’ll get over it. My wife died. But I immediately went out and found another wife. You can find another husband.” That’s a true story and it’s truly awful.
Third: Don’t try to explain what you don’t understand. When people grieve over their losses, they wonder, as all of us do, why this grief has come to them. The person who wants to help the friend who asks this question must resist the temptation to answer that question. In all honesty, your friend doesn’t want to have a rational explanation anyway. She or he simply wants to be able to say, “This isn’t fair!”
And it isn’t fair. Life often isn’t fair. At the end of Job’s forty-two chapters, we’re left with this answer to the question of why grief befalls us: We live in a world where bad things happen. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that, in the world in which live, bad things come to the good and the evil alike.
Only God knows why the particular sorrow your grieving friend is enduring has come to them. Your friend doesn’t need you to “play God.” She or he simply needs a friend.