This particular post is geared toward a specific audience. My hope is that whether you are in that audience or not you will be able to find something helpful in this, but if you don’t, it’s ok. I know this is really specific; I tried to think of a generic way to do this. It hasn’t worked. That said, let’s get on with the topic at hand: When you’re working through grief and a friend goes through a major loss.
No matter what stage of grief you are going through, the moment a friend lets you know they have just lost someone important, it can bring you back to the moment you lost someone. It’s incredibly hard in that moment not to relive your first moments of shock, pain, and the crushing weight of the loss. First, let me say, don’t try to push that aside. As painful as those moments are, they can help you empathize better with your friend. You are NOT them. You do NOT understand exactly what they are going through. Empathy doesn’t pretend it does know what’s going on, but it does hurt alongside the other person. Secondly, don’t pretend for the other person that you aren’t impacted by this. You are. Maybe you didn’t know anything about the person they lost, but you are still impacted by it because your friend is hurting. You don’t have to have an extreme reaction; be who you are and feel what you feel. Faking it one way or the other isn’t going to help anyone, especially your friend who will know you are faking it.
The temptation you are going to face as your friend is going through this hurt is to tell them you know how they feel (you don’t), that everything will be okay (really? Are you completely okay after your loss?), or to launch into your story (maybe they need to hear it, but not necessarily). You may also be tempted to say nothing because you know how much the well meaning people that interjected into your pain frustrated you. Don’t fall prey to either one.
You can and should help your friend. You do have things you can share from your experience, but be sensitive. Let them lead. Please. They won’t know what they need, and you may have to gently prompt. But you can do that without putting pressure on them. Let them know you are thinking of them, praying for them, and are available for them. If you are close by and can offer some assistance in physical ways, offer specifics. If they say no, let no be no. If you can’t offer that assistance, offer to call and be available to listen to them, pray with them, cry with them, or even just sit in silence with them. I know that can be uncomfortable. Who wants to sit in silence on the phone? Trust me, though, when you can’t be with someone in person, sometimes just sitting in silence together helps you feel connected and less alone.
You know your friends. You can tell when they are ready to hear something and when they aren’t. If a verse or prayer or phrase helped you a lot in your initial days of loss, share it with them. And be honest with them that you know it isn’t a fix all. You aren’t giving them a bandaid. You’re sharing truth with them because you know at some point it will hit its mark.
Honestly, having your friend go through a major loss might hurt more than going through your own loss, particularly because you know how overwhelming it is and you wish you could just make it all better. Avoid falling into the fix it mentality; it didn’t help you, it won’t help them. But don’t avoid your friend. They need you. Their life has been turned upside down (you know this; yours was too), and they need to reassurance that they do not have to face this all alone. You provide more stability than you know just by being the person who isn’t afraid to join them in their pain. And when they are at a point where they are able to share something exciting again, rejoice with them. Don’t just hold on for the hard moments; relish the good moments with them.