By Darcie Fuqua, Crosswalk.com
I pressed replay on my voicemail. And then again. I listened to the barely audible words of someone close to me who is suffering dearly. A pinch in my chest formed as I felt the weight of my friend's pain in every hesitation and stuttered word.
"Love you. Haven't talked in a while. Kind of been, just uh, I don't know, huh (nervous laugh). Just kind of, uh, out of sorts. I guess. That is the best way I can say it. I mean, I'm doing fine. Love you. Bye."
How can someone so intelligent and confident have such a hard time getting through a sentence or two?
It's called grief. And it has been a constant companion of my friend for the past two hundred and six days -- almost seven months without his baby girl.
Grief is one of those things that is tough to explain. Its definition is deep sorrow caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune. You can dive even further into the meaning of sorrow to get a better picture, but the words of distress, misery, and despair are just that – words. It's only when you experience grieving yourself that you truly understand the emotions. But even these feelings are unique because everyone processes loss and mourns differently.
Laura Sobiech, the author of Fly a Little Higher – How God Answered a Mom's Small Prayer in a Big Way, puts it this way, "I love the word 'experience' because it doesn't turn grief into something ugly that inhibits us from being where we are supposed to be. It neutralizes it and turns it into something that simply is."
I love how Laura Sobiech ends this statement with the words, "[grief] is something that simply is." It's a process that is an integrated part of human life and unavoidable when we love hard. But you can be the lifeline for your friend when the inevitable happens. Let's look at ways you can come alongside your grieving friend in a supportive and loving manner.
1. Acknowledge and Respect that Grieving the Loss of a Loved One is an Individual Process
I believe devastation and anguish play their part in every good love story, not that it makes it easier in any way. Unfortunately, you can't experience one without the other. Together, they paint a beautiful picture and write the words to your chapters. It was inconsolable, grieving Alfred Lord Tennyson, who penned, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." It took him sixteen years to finish the elegy (poem of lamentation) containing this famous quote after the unexpected death of a close friend.
His story reminds me that grieving can be a long-term process, and it is an intimate and unique experience. The emotions of grief ebb and flow over time, and patterns and stages can emerge, but no manual tells us how to cope with death. Two people who experience the same loss will still grieve differently. Many factors for these differences include the relationship with the deceased loved one, culture, personality, and support system.
When you allow your friend to grieve in her own way, without assumptions and judgment of her actions and without comparing it to your own experience, it shows you acknowledge her pain and support her. It's a way of telling your friend, "I love you, and I hate this is happening to you. You don't deserve this, and I'm here to stay even when it's difficult to see you suffer like this."
2. Don't Try to Fix It – Simply Be Present
We need to acknowledge that grieving is a normal part of our human experience weaved in and out over our years. Witnessing your friend's pain makes you want to fix it for them. It's a natural tendency. But there is no remedy for the mourning process, and grief is not a problem that needs fixing or solving. You can't turn back time and prevent the loss from happening, so, therefore, you can't fix it.
As your friend navigates the grieving process, she may act out in anger, experience deep sadness and depression, anxiety, cry frequently, or fumble through essential living functions. These emotions can take their physical toll on your friend in various ways, including but not limited to sleep disturbances, fatigue, mental processing issues, or digestive problems. Instead of trying to take away the pain and discomfort, your role is to support and comfort your friend and become a safety net so she can take the time to let her wounds heal.
I know she may resemble a shell of herself and pull away into seclusion. You will need to be okay and content in sitting in silence at times. The intense emotions experienced with grief, especially fresh grief, can make formulating sentences feel impossible. It's like when a child gets hurt and can't get out an audible cry for a few seconds because there is too much pain, causing a state of shock. Silence for the grieving person allows them to regain a semblance of peace and a moment to recollect their thoughts.
Don't let your friend's grieving experience scare you away, because she needs you now more than ever before.
Your presence is more beneficial and therapeutic than you realize. Unfortunately, you may experience intense feelings of rejection and simply not know what to say or do around your friend. But pulling away and remaining silent causes more pain and makes the grieving person feel forgotten, so hang in there.
3. Pray for Your Friend and Ask for Guidance from the Holy Spirit
While silence between friends may be painful, silent prayers provide comfort and work wonders. Your friend may want you to hold hands with her and pray sometimes. There may also be times when she is wrestling with God and rejects these outward moments of prayer. That's where you come in as an intercessor and, of course, as a friend.
Don't forget to pray for yourself. Not only should you pray for specific requests and the well-being of your friend in bereavement, but you should ask for strength, wisdom, and understanding for yourself. Pray for detailed guidance from the Holy Spirit to lead you on this journey of grieving alongside your dear friend.
4. Offer Practical Help
Grief can make basic, everyday tasks seem impossible and daunting, especially for those who can barely get out of bed. One way to truly help a grieving friend is through providing practical needs and tasks. This can be anything from cooking to walking the dog. You can always fill a gap, like watching the kids so your friend can take a nap, shuttling children to sports practice, doing the dishes, or folding laundry.
Often, the Holy Spirit impresses a specific act or word on our hearts, if we are willing to listen and obey. Using discernment, the action we take or words we feel called to say can mean all the world to a friend. Jesus knows what He is doing.
One time I bought a used jogging stroller on a whim for a lady I barely knew who seemed to be down in her spirit. God kept placing an image of a stroller on my mind, and I just happened to purchase the exact model she wanted, but she couldn't afford it due to recent health problems. We started our walks together, pushing our strollers, and have become best friends ever since. She told me, years later into our friendship, about how she had been praying for a friend right before we bumped into each other in the preschool parking lot, and that's when I asked if she would like to go walking one day. She just needed a stroller -- and then God showed up.
Friend, our God works in mysterious and miraculous ways every day. He wants to work in you and through you, especially as you serve your friend in her time of need. I know loss is hard, and it's challenging to watch someone you love grieve, but be the comforter to those who mourn (Matthew 5:4).
These ways to grieve alongside your friend are just a few of the many suggestions you can follow to support your friend in need. Many great free resources and books are available to help you navigate this experience. Please note if a loved one's grief starts to look more like depression as time goes on, you may want to encourage them to seek professional help.
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock
Darcie Fuqua is a Business Analyst, Auburn Grad (War Eagle!), Christian blogger & podcast host, and mental health advocate. She is from the deep south of Alabama, where she currently resides with her husband, two energetic fun-loving boys, and a dog named Charlie. She loves sinking her toes in the sand, cuddling with her boys, and having great conversations over a table of good food. You can read more of her writing on her website www.leightonlane.com and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. Check out Darcie’s latest project as cohost of Therapy in 10.