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Offering Grief Support

I hear many sad tales of people who suffer the loss of a loved one followed by abandonment of people who love them but don’t know how to support them during grief. I understand. Offering grief support to someone who is experiencing a major loss is more difficult than we might think. It is tempting to believe that doing something wrong is worse than doing nothing. The thought of hurting someone in grief is an agony in itself.


When you are living without someone who has played a significant role in your life, the depth of the missing can be suffocating. Everywhere they are supposed to be… they aren’t. Every time you need or expect them to be there… they can’t be. That missing is an ache that may never go away completely.

Once you understand the weight loneliness places upon someone grieving, you can see how important the presence of others becomes to them. The simple act of ‘being there’ is a powerful support. Your physical presence isn’t always necessary. Simple text messages or emails that let the sufferer know someone is there; caring for them, thinking of them, supporting them is a huge help.


Unlike the arrow-straight highways of my native Saskatchewan, the path of grief is a gnarled mountain goat path. Ups and downs can chase one another across the day in dizzying fashion. A griever will move back and forth through the ‘phases’ of grief unpredictably. I believe that God directs the heart/mind/psyche of someone who has suffered a loss in the way that will bring the healing they need.

It is important to remember that offering grief support to others means taking on their grief journey, not yours. Their path likely won’t look anything like what you or someone else has experienced. That doesn’t make it wrong. It makes it unique, as it should given our glorious singularity.


As you support, do your best to keep judgement out of it. Judgement only adds an extra burden to the griever. They certainly wouldn’t benefit from doubting themselves and their process more than they already are.

It can be tempting to look at someone’s grieving process from the outside and think, “they should be doing better” or “…worse” or … “different”. Despite your best intentions, you can’t know what is happening on the inside or the complexities they may be working through. It is also not clear what path their grief will take. Grief doesn’t follow a routine or schedule. The griever themself probably doesn’t know what to expect next. How can you?


For myself, I went through an extended period of numbness following the passing of my eldest son. I know some people thought I wasn’t dealing with my grief, that I was burying it. I wasn’t – God just knew that I wasn’t ready to face it head on yet. As I began sensing the impressions others had that I was avoiding my pain, it made me doubt and judge myself. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t force myself to experience something I wasn’t. My best option was to accept the route as it unfurled before me.


It makes me pleased and proud to hear grieving souls who have the courage to stand up and say, “stop asking me to ‘get over it’”. It is about time! I don’t think people experience frustration at this expectation more now than ever. In the past I suspect people dealing with loss believed they should be ‘getting over it’. That belief didn’t help them to get over anything. Instead, they learned to hide their pain, turn their back on their grief and try to soldier on. The pain likely returned in another shape or form that may have been even more difficult to survive.

It is a considerable cultural growth for people to recognize that grief isn’t something we move past in every case. Some grief becomes a part of our life. We can learn to walk with it while maintaining joyful, productive lives.


I know you have nothing but the best of intentions when you tell someone, “If you need anything, just call.” The sincerity behind that offer is not in doubt. Everyone who has ever said those words to someone suffering a loss truly wants the person to call and ask for what they need. In most cases, it simply won’t happen.

A person in pain feels heavy and burdensome to themselves. The last thing they want is to impose their agony on anyone else. In their suffering they can also become lost and listless. Reaching out can be an insurmountable task.


In this I look to my friends who helped me through the loss of my first husband. The invitations were a gloriously little trail of breadcrumbs that led me out of despair. I didn’t accept every invitation. At first, I refused many. After a while, my wise friends would give me some leeway but if my refusals went on too long, the wording of the invitations changed. Instead of “do you want to,” it became “I’m coming to get you for…”. Before long, I did initiate visits and calls. When I saw how natural and comfortable it was, I took full advantage of their support.


As you begin just ‘being there’ with your friend who is grieving you will have to learn to become comfortable with tears. Tears can come at the drop of a hat. They can be accompanied by a smile, or they can be tortured sobs. If something you say elicits either sort, don’t feel bad. Just continue to be there. Join in a happy memory or offer a shoulder. Tears are healing and can be a precious tribute.


There are times when you may need to lead the person you are supporting to seek additional help. Suspicion of suicide or substance abuse are such times. It can be normal for someone dealing with a loss to think or talk about wishing they could join their loved one. If you suspect your friend is in danger of suicide or leaning unhealthily on substances reach out for professional help.


Providing support to a loved one learning to live with a loss can feel like a tricky and intricate dance. So how do you know when to take a passive stance – just ‘being there’ or when to be lovingly insistent? If you are an engaged, active presence in their life, you will know. God will guide you. Remember it is their journey. You are walking beside; easing their burden, not charting the course or taking the reins.

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