Helping Your Grieving Friend

At some point you will be called to stand beside your friend as they encounter a season of grieving. I see more tears from inappropriate comments made during this season than any other. We all mean well, but sometimes we’re simply hurtful. How can we improve?

Let’s begin by looking at what grief is and how are friends get there. Grieving is a state of distress and sorrow. Biblical characters were said to be “clothed in sackcloth and ashes” when they were grieving. This was an outward sign of the emotional upheaval they were feeling on the inside; they would literally rub ashes on their head and wear a coarse garment made from goat or camel’s hair or hemp. Our friends may encounter something unexpected or ongoing like grieving the loss of a parent (by death, or losing them slowly as they deteriorate, such as the case with dementia or Alzheimers), the death of a sibling or child (miscarriage, newborn, toddler, teen, etc), the loss of a job, inability to have children (infertility), a child that’s runaway (physically or emotionally), desiring to be married when they are still single and the list goes on. Sometimes are friends grieve as their state of life changes, empty-nesters (children leave home), become parents (losing their unstructured free time), getting married (losing their independence), a planned job/career change, move to a new city, school or country, etc.

It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that some wounds will not be completely healed this side of Heaven. Our desire for a “quick-fix” comment often only leaves us feeling less uncomfortable watching our friend mourn – it will not make them feel “all better.”

Now let’s see what people say, and what they could say instead.

  • Your friend does not need to hear that “it will all be better” because you can’t personally guarantee that. They do need to hear that, “one day you will awake and it will hurt a little less, and then a little less still.”
  • Your friend does not need to hear that you understand their pain or loss. You may well have encountered a similar situation, but we all have different pasts that allow us to process our pains differently. They do need to hear that you will be beside them while they process through their pain and that you won’t run away from them when it gets hard, or uncomfortable. A statement like, “I know it’s hard” or “I’m sorry” can be exactly what they need to hear.
  • Your friend does not need to hear, “it’s OK,” but they do need to hear, “you’re OK.” People in grief do not feel that they are OK: they need to know “it’s” not OK (whatever “it” is), but they are OK. What they are feeling is normal.
  • Your friend does not need to hear how they feel, “You must be devastated,” “You must feel torn to shreds,” and the like. They do need to be asked how they are feeling and then allowed to talk or think it through to figure out how they are feeling. We need to listen to our friend and ask them questions instead of assuming we know what they are going through.
  • You friend does not additional forms of false hope (like the “it’s OK” or “it will all be better” stated above). These can come in the form of “Maybe next month you’ll get pregnant,” “You can always find another job, maybe one you even like better,” “You’ll find the right man/woman,” “I’m sure they’re in Heaven,” or “They’ll come back someday.” Again, we can’t guarantee these statements and things can look worse before they get better. They do need to hear that ultimately Jesus is our hope, comfort, and strength and they can do all things through Him. They need to hear that His burden is easy and His yoke is light and they can call upon Him to be their refuge. And Jesus does know how they feel and can grieve with them.
  • Your friend does not need to be placated with statements like “At least they were old and Lived a good life,” “You didn’t really like your boss anyway,” “Why don’t you just adopt,” or “Think about what you could do with all your free time now.” They need to know that it’s OK to be where they are in their grieving process and they don’t need to hopeful about the future just yet when they are still ruminating on the past. You can be their hope when they can’t hope themselves.

We are probably most family with the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as “The Five Stages of Grief” (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). I find “The 7 States of Grief” to be more comprehensive. (The following is taken from the website: This is what your friend will go through as they grieve. Remember these are cyclical and not linear, so your friend will flow through each stage several times for weeks, months, or years.

  1. SHOCK & DENIAL - You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
  2. PAIN & GUILT – As the shock wears off, it is replaced with suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels choatic and scary during this phase.
  3. ANGER & BARGAINING – Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death of someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion. You may rain against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair.
  4. DEPRESSION, REFELECTION, LONELINESS – Just when your friends may think you be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this state of grieving. During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one (or wish you had done) and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
  5. THE UPWARD TURN - As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a litte calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessens, and your depressions begins to lift slightly.
  6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH – As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him/her.
  7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE – You learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled you that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward. You will start to look forward and actually plain things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
Sometimes all you need to tell your friend is, “This stinks. I love you.”


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