By contributing writer, Ami
Sometimes I think tragedy is the catalyst that compels Christians to function as Jesus intended, that is, one body integrally entwined with petty differences cast aside. When the bottom falls out, believers realize a startling truth— we desperately need each other.
It’s a paradox. Pain and sorrow can create a church that radiates Jesus’ stunning beauty.
I’ve experienced it.
It was a bitterly cold day in January 2013. I arrived at the building for my husband’s funeral. So many things are a blur, but that day is crystal clear. One of the most beautiful contrasts to the staggering weight of grief was how the church rallied as one.
There were guys standing in the snow for hours, directing traffic, helping folks safely inside. These brothers gave sacrificially for me.
Inside, the auditorium was transformed with flowers and pictures of our life together. So masterfully arranged, it was a gorgeous scene. I couldn’t have asked for better.
My church is young, and this was the first death we’d ever faced together, the first funeral for a congregation of mostly 20s and 30s. Everyone served according to their giftings- food, music, programs… And all of this swirled around me, while I functioned in a dense fog.
And I’ve come to understand the gift of mercy in an entirely new manner. In tragedy, it’s the merciful that rise like cream to the top. O Christ, your church is beautiful!
However, I also experienced some “comfort” that hurt. I know it was well meaning, and I know grief can be an awkward thing.
I know I’ve surely been the “not so helpful” person at times. I’m still growing here as well. It’s just that death has given me a different perspective on counsel, encouragement, and comfort.
I hesitate to share the “not so helpful” list with you, lest it sound angry or bitter, but I think I can. I hope only to equip.
I speak only of my own experiences. People grieve differently, so my thoughts aren’t meant to be comprehensive.
How to help a grieving friend- The Not so Helpful & the Helpful
“Let me know if you need anything.”
These words drive people raw with grief to insanity! Everything is a blur. They don’t know what they need, or there may be far too many needs to know where to start. It’s a well intended sentiment, but it feels like a cop out.
Rather, take initiative to meet a need. Organize meals, do laundry, make phone calls, create a gift basket, stock them with Kleenexes.
Additionally, some better questions are “What is something specific I can do for you?” or “What do you need?” These give the opportunity to list a concrete need, however small or ridiculous it is.
“I need some cheap dishes to smash to the floor when I’m angry.”
“I know how you feel” or “I understand.”
No, you don’t. Unless you’ve gone through death you don’t know. Likewise, I couldn’t say to someone who’s experienced divorce, “I know how you feel.” Again well intended, but your friend might have to exercise every ounce of self-control not to slap you.
“It will get easier.”
While this is true, it may not get easier for a LONG time. And it will probably get harder before it gets easier. These are just difficult words to hear right away.
“Have you turned a corner in your grief?”
It had been about four months after Jon died when I heard this one. I took a deep breath and responded with grace, “No I have not.”
But inside my emotions screamed “What corner? There is no corner!” This one hurt so badly because it made me feel like grief had to be rushed.
There is no timetable. And grief truly does come in cycles. It is ok to be weak. Giving your friend permission to “not be ok” is truly one of the best things you can do for her.
For me, just talking about the struggle was helpful. But I didn’t always need “fixes.” Sleep with a body pillow, wear his clothes, get a cat. I think my heart just cried out to be told, “I love you, and I’m praying for you.”
Sometimes just letting the person talk (or not talk) is the best help. For a long time I wanted to talk about Jon ALL the time. I’m so thankful for friends who let me.
Don’t press for details.
Let the person decide to whom they feel comfortable sharing details surrounding a loved one’s death. I needed to talk about the night in the ER with people I trusted deeply, but with others it was merely forcing me to relive the most traumatic experience I’ve known.
A few widow specific things:
“I’m glad to see you’re moving on.” Widows don’t move on. We move forward. We choose to live. These words, “Move on,” make us feel as if the death of our husbands was like a break up.
The word “Ms.” Maybe this one isn’t hard for everyone, but I really struggle with this word. Still.
Please still invite us to be a part of events for families and couples.
Going to bed alone was one of the most difficult things for awhile. Sometimes I would sleep on my couch so I wouldn’t feel him not there. Pray for widows at bedtime.
Comparing widowhood to being a single adult is a challenging thing to hear. Yes, I’m single again, but it’s a vastly different singleness.
Writing the “not so helpfuls” is a difficult thing, so let’s transition back to the beautiful.
“I’m praying for you.”
“It’s ok to cry.”
If there need to be words, let them be born out of sincerity.
Cards and messages
I received hundreds of cards. They kept coming for several months. I think it was four months before there wasn’t at least one card in the mail. Facebook messages were also good. These were lovely reminders that people still cared.
You may also even think about sending a card eight or nine months later!
Remembering holidays and anniversaries
On my first wedding anniversary without Jon, someone had flowers delivered to my work. On what would have been Jon’s birthday, some friends threw a huge birthday bash. It was awesome.
Grief is often a lonely thing. It feels like everyone else has moved on when your world has stopped. So, being remembered on a holiday is beautiful grace.
It’s ok to laugh and talk of normal things.
One of the sweetest memories from the early days was a night at community group where we laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. These friends knew I needed a release from the other extreme emotions. They knew it was ok to laugh even though I was far from done.
It’s ok for you to grieve too.
On the flip side it was good for me to see that others were hurting also. I was so thankful that they would share the burden with me. It also helped to know how much they loved and missed my husband.
God’s word is powerful, and the Holy Spirit is the great Comforter. I think that is self-explanatory.
Remind them who they are.
At first I didn’t know who I was anymore or where I fit. Social situations filled me with anxiety.
My pastor often reminded me of my identity in Christ – adopted, chosen, beloved… And then one of the most powerful statements he gave- “You are still you.” I didn’t believe it for a long time. But it was true.
What are you struggling with this week? What do you miss about him today? How is your heart?
Small caveat: “How are you?” is an overwhelming question. I’d say, ask it only if you really want to know.
For me this was vastly important. But then again I have an incredibly high touch quotient!
Finally, I’d say the main thing is just be there. It doesn’t take much to be a blessing. Just let your friend know she is loved.
How marvelous it is that Christ made His church a body! We are inextricably connected. Praise God He didn’t leave us to face life alone.
I’d say the most important thing to know about me is to know my Savior, Jesus. I’m redeemed, justified, made alive because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin. but He didn’t stay dead. He rose again! He ever lives and pleads for me. He chose me and calls me His own. I want to be a true disciple.
Jon, my husband and wonderful true love, died about a year and a half ago. He adored me, but he adored Jesus and the gospel more.
I used to teach kindergarten, but currently I work for my church counseling and teaching ladies. I’ve had the privilege to speak at several ladies retreats in the last year. Also, one of my blog posts was featured on the True Woman blog, a subset of Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. You can find that post here.
I began writing primarily to help process the roller coaster of grief. The ramblings were my honest, raw, thoughts as a 30 year old, childless widow. I felt strongly that I needed to let others see my journey, and let God use it to break down stereotypes of Christian grief. Now I write to encourage and equip with the comfort I’ve been given. I want the Lord to use my life in any way He chooses. His gospel. His glory.
My blog is found at www.whenmercyfoundme.com
Of this I can be sure, “I have engraved you on the palms of my Hand…” Isaiah 49:16 The God who rescued me, bought me, made me righteous, this God has not forgotten me. And Him will I serve, always.