From an early age, I knew how to party.
Birthdays? I show up with a present I know you’ll love. I can bake you a cake and decorate it in your favorite colors.
Weddings? My bad dancing does not keep me off the dance floor. I will throw the bridal shower, find the gift on the registry, and stay up late into the night to make sure you feel celebrated. I never needed to be taught how to celebrate you. But you know what I didn’t learn until much later in life?
How to grieve with you.
Until someone I dearly loved died, I didn’t know how to sit with you in your grief. I was so worried about doing the wrong thing that I ended up doing nothing at all.
But, and it’s heartbreaking to say, there are grief experts all around us. Not because they have studied grief, but because they have lived it.
If you are one of the uninitiated, let me tell you what I’m learning about grief: watch those who have walked before us.
There are no magical words that will make a grieving person feel better — and those who have walked the road before know it.
There are things in grief that you don’t know you need, but you do — and those who have lived through grief know it.
When my dad died, we had very few specific ideas for the memorial service, except one thing. My mom wanted a classical guitarist to play. My friend Cheri took on the entirety of that task, including finding the guitarist, providing him with a list of songs my mom wanted, and paying for his services. It was a huge gift, not only to my mom but also to me, because trying to return emails, coordinate logistics, and grieve at the same time was beyond my capacity.
In taking on that one task, Cheri was demonstrating what Paul extolled us to do in Romans 15:12 (NIV):
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Last year, when my friend Denise lost her husband suddenly, I couldn’t make it to the memorial service due to other things going on. So I contacted her son and asked, “What can I do? Is there something I can pay for? How can I lighten the load?”
He told me that they were having family come back to their home after the service. I could provide the food. It felt lame and not enough, but having been in that position before, I knew that anything taken off the plate was a gift.
Here are a few other ideas to keep on hand when you need to support a grieving friend or loved one.
1. Begin your texts with the letters NNTR (no need to reply). (Yes, texts are a great way to sit with someone in grief.) These four letters allow you to support without burdening the person who needs the support. So I can send a text sending love and support, without the grieving person feeling obligated to reply.
2. Show up. For most of my life, I didn’t go to the funerals or memorial services when a friend lost a loved one because, well, I didn’t know the person. It felt like an intrusion. But what I’ve learned since losing someone I love is that those people show up because they love you and you are important to them. Not many people knew my dad, especially at the end of his life, but people were there for my mom, my brother, and me. Recently, I went to the memorial of someone I never met, not because I was grieving, but because I needed to be there for my friend who was. Not just to grieve with her but to also laugh with her and celebrate a life that was taken too soon.
3. Stop the made-up timelines. Grief looks different to everyone. I figured I would be back to work in a week or so after my dad died. Isn’t that the rule — parents you get a week or two, spouses maybe a month, and then you are expected to move on with life? Grief doesn’t have an expiration date or clear start and stop like a two-week vacation. Your grieving friend will likely need you to check in a month, six months, and a year after a death. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are important times to reach out as well.
Grief is a sneaky and tricky companion. But grief, for all its anguish, is a needed partner in the days and months to come. And while our grief may never get smaller, the more love and support we experience makes that grief a little easier to carry day to day.
Our support can ease the burden when grief is too much to bear.
Do you know someone who is in a season of grief?
How can you support them this week?