Helping someone in grief

I recently went to a community talk on grief in an effort to help my mother-in-law navigate this time of sorrow and depression. She not only lost her beloved husband of 62 years, but also her vitality, sense of purpose, and independence. Add to that some debilitating health issues and you can imagine the grace it takes to daily live in such a place.

We have tried over the past year to encourage, love, and provide for her, but the bottom line is...there's nothing we can do to change her pain. We want to fix it, but she's on her own journey of loss and all we can do is come alongside, pray, help as we’re able, and leave the process to the Lord.

I was helped by the lecture.  It relieved me of the sense of guilt that I haven't done enough, that I've failed her and the Lord in some way. It armed me with some fresh understanding of both what she's going through and how we can better support her.

If you’re grieving a loss, or helping someone else who is, here are a few thoughts from the talk. Maybe they’ll help.

About grief

  • The symptoms and process of grieving can come with all major changes in life.
  • Grief is a massive stressor, both physically and psychologically. Symptoms may include: exhaustion, shock and numbness, decreased immune response, panic attacks, confusion, forgetfulness, inability to function, preoccupation, obsessive thinking, escapism, frustration, hostility, change in sleep patterns, decreased intellectual ability, and social withdrawal; being distracted, depressed, sad, lonely, angry, fearful; avoidance and over-busyness.
  • There’s no way out of grief; one must go through it. It is exhausting, both emotionally and physically. Deep tiredness and inability to function well is typical, requiring every inner resource to move through grieving. It is hard work.
  • Everyone’s journey is different. The process is unique for each one and should not be expected to ‘wind up’ on any timetable (”A year’s gone by, you’re feeling better, right?”—wrong).
  • Grief is isolating, life-changing, and long term. The work of grief is to process through it and learn how to move on with a new life paradigm. It is possible and there’s good on the other side.

How we can help someone in grief

  • Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.
  • Listen to what they’re processing. Listen with heart, listen with patience—they’ll repeat themselves but it's part of the process.
  • Avoid the temptation to speak platitudes and provide ready answers—that’s our way of dealing with the discomfort of being near their grief. Listen.
  • Don’t be afraid to feel the pain with them. This is so uncomfortable for most of us, but is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
  • Recognize that they’re not only facing deep loss but also changes of routine in almost every area of life. They might need help finding a new way to live.
  • Effective grieving should not be done alone. 
  • Recognize that the grief process is one of ups and downs, good days and bad days. But the gift of time lessens the extremes and it will get better.

As Christians, we have the Lord’s comfort and power to get us through these hard times. There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that  promise us His strength, understanding, and hope. If you have lost a loved one who was a believer in Jesus, the Lord tells us that we will see them again and be with them for all eternity (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Praise God! The separation is only temporary.