Thursday, April 30, 2015

Practical Ways to Love on a Grieving Friend

It was about this time two years ago that my sister, Kasie, died.  And it was difficult, incredibly difficult.  We learned a lot about what's actually helpful and what wasn't helpful at all, and I'd like to offer some of what we have learned for the sake of helping others (whether you're grieving or helping a grieving friend).

Listen Listen Listen  
Love in, grief out.  Let me repeat that - love in, grief out.  Love. In. Grief. Out. 
I've heard this idea referred to as "the ring theory" (click for a really helpful illustration).  The idea is, if you're speaking to someone closer to the deceased than you, offer comfort and dump your grief on someone else not as close as you are.  Those closest are having a hard enough time dealing with their grief to add the weight of yours on top of that.  That being said...

Maybe they need to be angry.  Listen.
Maybe they need to weep and weep and weep some more.  Listen.
Maybe they need to hash through their emotions.  Listen.
Maybe they need to share good memories about their loved one.  Listen.
Maybe they need to scream.  Listen.
Whatever they need.  Listen. 
It's hard to know how to respond, and there are plenty of articles, books, and blog posts out there about what to say and not to say.  But, in general, just be genuine.  Really listen to them, and respond with sincerity.  That might mean crying with them.  It might mean just saying I'm sorry.  It might mean sharing a special or funny story about you and their loved one.  Whatever it is, just try to avoid quippy remarks.  We know they're in a better place.  We know they're not suffering anymore.  We know they wouldn't want us to be sad.  But it's still hard, and hearing those things doesn't help much.  
So again, love in, grief out.  And listen.

Bring meals
This one is so so so simple but so often over-looked by the friends of those grieving.  And we allow ourselves so many excuses: other people have probably brought meals, we don't want to bother them, we don't know their allergies, etc.

But - let me tell you - it doesn't matter.  It just does. not. matter. 
None of those excuses are good enough.  Who cares if they have too much food??  And why would it be a bother to simply drop off some fried chicken or a casserole??  And allergies - they know what they can and can't eat - they'll just be more appreciative that you were thoughtful enough to bring something by to them than a stupid allergy.  Food speaks love in big ways to people who are grieving. 
By the time Matthew and I got to my family in TX (less than 24 hours after Kasie's death was confirmed), they already had so much food dropped off that some had to be frozen.  But no one offered up a single complaint.  Not one.  We were starved by the time we got there, and there was plenty of food for us to find something without having to go to the store or grab fast food.  I can't begin to tell you how huge of a blessing this really was to our whole family.  They went quite a while without having to bother with cooking, and that's a big relief in the midst of grief.  Plus, so many people come by to offer their condolences that having food around is a real non-burden for those who are grieving.

Don't wait for them to ask for things or help - just give it anyway
Most grievers are actually in need of help, whether it's a ride to the airport, financial help, or just a babysitter for a night out together to discuss everything.  However, most of them find it hard to ask for that help for several reasons.  Many times, they don't really know what they actually need and, therefore, don't know how to ask.

When Kasie died, several of our friends asked if we needed anything or offered their help (in general terms) if we needed it.  However, we honestly were so blind-sided by the situation that we didn't even know what we needed at the time.  But a couple of our friends didn't ask - they just helped.  I know it can seem kind of obtrusive to just say "we're going to help whether you like it or not", but it really wasn't.  It was actually a relief.  They said here's our help, we love you.  Here's some money to help pay for your last-minute flights, we love you.  Here I am to pick you up from the airport so your family doesn't have to worry about it, we love you.  And that has resonated with us so much even now, two years later.

Give them space
On the flip side of helping with no options given, there's a fine balance of giving your grieving friends space to grieve privately as well (especially if that's what they need).  We were fortunate to be given lots of love through social media and mailed cards and texts, but most of our friends didn't really bother us.  They let us know they cared but didn't expect anything from us in return.  It gave us the space to wrestle with emotion and plans without feeling the need to make a personal response to each text or comment.  Grief is exhausting, and feeling a burden to socialize with your caring friends is even more exhausting.  It was so nice to know we had friends and loved ones who cared but also knew to give us the room we needed to just grieve.  Don't ignore them - just give them space.

Show a sign of support a few months later
This doesn't have to be anything huge: maybe a card or quick phone call/text to say you're still thinking about them as they continue to grieve.  One of the hardest things about grief is it isn't a fast process for those close to the deceased, but it is for most other people.  After a few months, most people have more or less moved on and find returning to 'normal' life isn't very difficult.  Meanwhile, those close to the situation are usually still grieving pretty heavily and feel like the rest of the world has kind of forgotten.  And it's nice to know that your friends are still thinking about you and haven't forgotten the life of your loved one when it seems that all others have.

I think this list could probably go on forever for the specific needs of different people in different situations, but I think these things are good for just about anyone going through the grief process.  All it takes is a little effort and a lot of love.  It goes a really long way.

And, as a side note, we are continually grateful for all the love, encouragement, and support that we are still receiving from our family, friends, loved ones, and those following Kasie's case.  If you'd like to receive updates about Kasie's case, you can follow our Facebook page at Remembering Kasie Clary #9 Forever.

For related articles regarding Kasie's death and grief, see:

Losing Kasie

When It Hurts

Jesus Loves Murderers Too

8 Things I'm Learning About Grief

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