How to respond to someone who is grieving

Another guest post by my amazing wife Christi :

We all know that certain things people say are intended to help with the grief of losing someone, but they really don’t. It’s why people have a hard time knowing what to say, or what to do with people who are bereaved. It’s why some people avoid the grieving family all together. It’s why others say exactly what they shouldn’t. It’s what causes the awkward silence that nobody wants.

Now that I have had the completely unwelcome experience of having been and now being on both sides of this fence, I want to point some things out, that I hope will help guide those who are supporting the grieving and also will give a little more voice to the bereaved:

1) Telling someone who just lost a child, that they are now in a better place, while true, is not comforting in the beginning of grieving. I know Judah is in a better place. But hearing that cuts me up, because it’s not like he was in a bad place here. He was a vivacious, happy, healthy, lively, deeply loved and cherished boy. I’m not saying this is wrong to say to other bereaved parents, in other circumstances, but with me, it just doesn’t help and in some ways, it stings.

2) Filling the silence. If I break down and cry, please don’t try to fill that gap. Just wait with me. Maybe pray silently or even out loud for me. Hug me. Really just be with me in that moment. Let me cry and don’t try to stop it. The silence doesn’t have to be filled, and if we both know that, it’s less awkward for everyone.

3) Please, please, please don’t quote Job or tell the bereaved they need to be more like him. It doesn’t help and adds guilt on top of grief.

4) Let the bereaved be mad at God. Let them ask him their questions, even if you don’t think He will answer them. God is big enough to handle our questions and our anger and walk us through it all. He really is. Just listen to the questions and let it be ok to ask, and please remember that anger is a natural part of grieving and it’s normal.

5) Let the bereaved talk about their child as much as they need to. They are very afraid that their child will be forgotten. Let them speak their child’s name and please, talk to them about their child. They may cry, but that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you have said something wrong. Chances are their crying is a mixture of the pain of grief and thankfulness that you care about their child.

Speak their child’s name. Don’t avoid that. Count that child in with their other children, when talking about how many children they have. The child is not erased from their hearts or from having existed, just because they died. For me, it deeply hurts to have someone say I have six kids. No. I have 7. I am their mom and I always will be. Death doesn’t change that…period.

6) Please don’t tell the bereaved how to grieve or how long to grieve. Each person needs to do it in whatever way they feel is best. And as for timing, there is a bad misbelief that grief is a process that has an end. It just doesn’t. It lasts for the rest of that person’s life. It’s an ongoing process.

If someone stops talking about it and seems like they are “over it”, that’s most probably because they have been shushed in their grief, or people have left them because of their grief, and they have learned to hide it. But it’s still there.

Look, we were made to love. And therefore, we were made to grieve. And we weren’t meant to grieve in a specific, standard way. Some may choose to be silent in their grief and some need to let it out. It is society that has deemed it impolite and improper to discuss. But that’s not how we are made and we are doing much more damage than good, by not allowing people to move through the natural feelings they have with such a loss.

7) Keep checking on the grieving. Keep asking what you can do. Don’t stop, once the funeral is over. It’s actually when that is over that the worst of the grief begins to creep in. It’s then that it hits you over and over, every single day, like a battering ram, that your child is not there and will not be coming back.

It’s then, in those first weeks, months and years when we must go on to a find a new normal. But it’s then that we can’t bear even the thought of living life without our child, and it’s then that we need the most support.

Don’t stop asking. Even when we tell you we don’t need anything just then. We say that because we don’t want to burden anyone or because we have grief brain and can’t think clearly enough at that moment, to know what we need. But keep asking, because one day, when the house is quiet and we are on our knees in pain and heartache, we will need you.

 

Post script:

The post isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad for what might have been said. Just to help people understand what is really needed. I know when people say things that hurt, that they really are wanting to help. I don’t take it personally. But if I can convey what people like me need, it will help a lot of grieving people and supportive people too. That’s my hope.

 

29 thoughts on “How to respond to someone who is grieving

    1. thank you so much for sharing this…i too am grieving a loss of a loved one my husband of 33 years….i really really needed this from you guys…i am still praying for you two…i know its hard i also lost a child 32 years ago and if it wasn’t for my husband and God’s help i would have never made it through the grieving but now i face grieving my husband along…others think they are helping but i still feel lost and don’t know what to do without him…so thank you so much for sharing this

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    2. Thank you so much for sharing. I love you guys. This was a wonderful eye opener. I too have lost my mother and dad. But this is a cycle of life that has to happen. I lost my baby sister at 43, that I have not overcome yet. she died in 2012 because of neglect from her doctors. I have pleaded with God to help me. I am bitter still. God Bless you all. We never forget our loved ones..Praying for you all.

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    3. This is so beautiful and the most truthful and intelligent information dealing with grief I have ever read or heard. Thank you!! GOD bless you💖

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  1. Oh my gosh, I love you both so much. That you are able to share this process. Because there are so many of us, who are wearing those same shoes. Mine are 14 years old now. And they still are not broken in. I just know that life goes on until it is my time. Christi, you are so eloquent with your teaching. My heart and prayers are for you my dear. And Mark too. I love you both, and have never met you, but oh my. Thank you. Louise Dishner.

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    1. Thanks I also lost my daughter this year and the List well bthe first thing you said about saying they are in a better place is just like you said. The better place for us is to have them hear alive and In our arms. I fill no comfort hearing this. To say now there not in pain or being taken advantage of our abused is still not having the chance to save them ! That’s part of our pain. Thanks for sharing and my prayers for peace is with you and your family.Sonya Carey for Nicky Carey.

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  2. Oh my gosh, I love you both so much. That you are able to share this process. Because there are so many of us, who are wearing those same shoes. Mine are 14 years old now. And they still are not broken in. I just know that life goes on until it is my time. Christi, you are so eloquent with your teaching. My heart and prayers are for you my dear. And Mark too. I love you both, and have never met you, but oh my. Thank you.

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  3. I admire both of you. You teach all of us, so very much about life. Mark and Christi I have never meet you, but I love you both very very much. Following the both of you, and then learning about Juju has strengthened my faith so much. I was definitely a back sliding christian, until I started following you two. Thank you so much for teaching me, and sharing your family and life with the world. I get on here everyday to see what you have posted. You have changed my life. I’m just so so, very sorry, about baby Juju.

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  4. All I can say is WOW you wrote and explained all of this so well bless your heart you do not know me but I have followed your story about your sweet little boy and the beautiful family you have and my heart aches for you. I know as a mother myself I could only imagine the heartache you are facing I don’t know how I could live day to day and ever say My grieving would end it can’t and never would we just have to tell are self that one day we will be reunited with are loves ones and seek God’s help in are lives to get through it with his guidance. I have always wanted to be an advocate to the grieving and hurt and really help them where the help is really needed and I hope one day I can live out that dream you have a beautiful family and a beautiful soul keep writing your heartfelt words and expressing how you feel God listens to us always. I would love to read more of your words one inspires the other and it keeps going. God bless you !!!

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  5. I love you both also. Judah is a beautiful child, and he will forever be a part of my life just as you two. “What can I/we pray for you?” Those words were the introduction of knowing you and your family. You made us a part of your family by letting us into your hearts, by praying for us. When you asked for prayer from us we could not resist, because that word didnt exist. There is trust, love, Christ like behavior that is so beautiful in these chats/post. I want to thank you for opening your hearts out to us. Total strangers, but are family. God sure put a mighty circle of live in your group. May the blessings of God be upon you all.

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  6. Mark dont for one minute think you cannot cry you will Never ever forget juju your 7child he will always be your child sure he is in Gods Mansion but your mansion will always be Juju home dont for one minute feel intimdated by what people say to loose a baby like Juju is really not easy i know of people who have lost there babies the same way as your child they still blame themselves 10 or 20 years down the line you have to care about yourself and your wife and the 7 children in your family God Bless

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  7. Thank you, having been there and am still there for someone who lost their son I know how hard it hurts and even now seven years on it hurts and we cry but he is and we talk about him, how he was what he did and how much he is loved. I lost my mother only a couple of months ago and found my own grief very different, but neither was wrong. space for silence was golden. Thank you for sharing, and the one thing I learnt helping and grieving is to allow yourself time to cry, to be angry and to shout. prayers and thoughts for you all now and for the future.

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  8. My wonderful mother taught me these things at a young age and over time we talked about them again. Her 4th child died at 5 days old… the brother I never met. But I listened to my mom. She taught me my best lessons. These are important things to know. Thank you for sharing them.

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  9. Mark, everything I mean everything your wife said is right on the money, perfect. Again, when I think of what to say of a person who has sustained a horrific, unspeakable loss such as you and your wife have, I think back to the words of St. Francis of Assisi, who stated “preach the gospel at all times and use words only as necessary.” All you can say, and all I will say to you over and over again, is that I am truly very very sorry for your loss…

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