An Honest Journey
How to Be There for a Grieving Loved One

How to Be There for a Grieving Loved One

If your friend is grieving, please don’t try and preach them out of their grief. Sit with them in it until words become necessary.

Jackie Hill Perry

There might be days where you are certain you are over it, and there might be days you feel everything all over again. But no matter the day, there will still be songs to listen to. And when you don’t feel like singing, there will still be rhythms to breathe to, for grace is still at work in you.

Morgan Harper Nichols

A friend loves at all times.

Proverbs 17:17

Stepping out of the car and onto the pavement, I took in the warm fresh air and the green leaves of the trees blowing in the wind. It was one of the few nice days in May after we had experienced day after day of more rain. I had decided that I was going to go about this day differently because it was the one-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and I wanted to celebrate his life in a way that he would have appreciated.

Early that morning, I loaded up my kids in the car, and we drove a short fifteen minutes to the state park close to our home. We had discovered this particular state park earlier in the year, and it quickly became a family favorite. I hate to admit that we’ve lived in our home for five years and just realized there was a state park so close, but I’m also thankful that this local treasure has brought out our sense of wonder and adventure.

On that warm day in May, we enjoyed our time at the playground next to the beach at the state park. There were lots of smiles and giggles as we observed the God-given beauty around us as we played. The warm sun kissed our cheeks as we looked out to the lake and watched the geese trek out of the water and onto the grass with their goslings following closely behind. It was a small reminder of the newness of life all around us.

After an hour and a half, we loaded back up in the car and made our way down to the lookout tower that was further west in the state park. We saw some people training dogs while riding horses and others were making their way back to the model rocketry access point to test their aircraft. I was surprised by all the activities that were taking place in the middle of the week.

At the observation deck and tower that overlooks the state park
Lots of smiles in the shade
And giggles (they love each other)

I knew my dad would have loved being a part of that day if he was still with us. He and my mom both enjoyed being outside on warm weather days. We even were able to spend time with them in Florida at their local state park two years back.

Being outside and having adventures was a big part of my childhood, and I wanted that legacy to be carried on through my children’s experiences. I can still picture my dad being outside in my family’s backyard. At this time of year, he would have been mowing the lawn, getting the pool ready for the grandkids, and my mom would have been weeding the garden and helping my dad vacuum all the leaves out of the pool.

This year, it’s been a surreal feeling knowing that those experiences were all in the past. The newness of spring has started once again, and this time that backyard belongs to someone else.

2019 has already been a year of healing, wonder, and growing in my relationship with God. I don’t think I would be in the place that I am now without the support and love that was poured upon our family throughout 2018.

As I look back at the past year, I can’t help but see the struggle. It was a hard year.

Grieving is a difficult and long process. For me, that initial, raw grief was so abnormal. It was so hard just to think through day-to-day activities, and then on top of that, I was taking care of a new baby and a 2.5-year-old. The enormity of my emotions was constantly forced above every other thought running through my brain.

Truly, I struggled with putting words to what I needed in this past year. My husband and I struggled to connect and communicate with one another on several levels because this grief was so new for both of us. He didn’t know how to be there for me, as much as he wanted to, and I had a really hard time knowing what I needed. It was only with time and taking many things out of my schedule, that I realized my husband and me needed to be spending more quality time together if we were going to journey through this well. Thanks to the help and support of family and friends, we had many people step up to help us through this grieving journey.

To be honest, there were also times I expected more from some people, but I think that death and grief can be difficult on others. Not everyone knows how to respond, or what to say, and so sometimes nothing is said. And that often hurts the most.

Even if it’s awkward, I always appreciated just the acknowledgment of the loss of my dad. With that said, I know I’ve probably been that person who should have said something when I didn’t, but now I know how important it is to at least say something.

As I process all of the love and support from this past year, I wanted to share the many ways that people did step up and help us through this difficult time. Even if you don’t presently know someone who is grieving, I guarantee you eventually will. That’s why I put together this list of key ways to support and love on others who have experienced a loss.

1) Show Up

This may seem like an obvious one, but really a friend or loved one may just need to know that you’re there. Maybe your friend wants to talk about the loss of their loved one, or maybe that friend just needs a break from thinking and talking about it. Either way, just being present, or offering your presence can mean the world to that person.

I realize seeing someone cry can be uncomfortable, but it’s truly a part of life, and when we’re there for our friends in the hardest of times, it truly shows the love that we have for that person, no matter what. Ultimately, having support, or at least knowing someone is there for you while you’re grieving means the world.  

2) Text, Call, Send a Card with Kind Words

If you’re not in close proximity to a friend or maybe it’s just a hectic time in life, I still think it’s so important to show love to that person by reaching out and recognizing the loss. Just sending a text, calling that person, or sending a card can mean so much.

As the sender of a card or text message, please realize that it may not always be easy for the friend who lost a loved one to respond. The first week after my dad passed away, I really didn’t want to talk with anyone besides my immediate family. I appreciated the love that was shown, but I needed time to grieve deeply that first week.

3) For Those with Young Kids or Pets: Offer to Help

With having two small children, it was very hard for me to process the loss of my dad. During such a tender time, it was even more difficult for me to communicate my needs to my husband. Anyone with small kids at home knows that everything revolves around the little people, so that quality time got pushed out the window for my husband and I, when it should have been prioritized in this time of grieving.

My dear husband has not experienced a deep loss at this point in his life, so it was hard for him to completely understand how to be there for me. I can see now that if we had more time together to talk, we might have avoided some misunderstandings and hurt along the way. We did start prioritizing more time together towards the fall and winter months which helped a lot. (Gotta get back to prioritizing those date nights…he’s been bugging me about doing them twice a month again, so I think they’ll be back on for us)

We had family and a babysitter help watch our kids later in the year, but I know I should have just said “yes” more often when others offered to watch my kids. Even when I felt “fine” for that day, it still probably would have been a good idea for me to take more time for myself in that part of my grieving journey.

Constantly caring for others did distract me from actually taking the time to care for myself and the relationship with my husband. I’m thankful that I have a loving husband who was so patient and willing to come along beside me during this journey and truly seek out the best ways to help us come together.

4) Buy a Gift Card to Eat Out or Do Something Fun

If you can’t offer your time, buy a gift card for your friend to eat out or to do something fun/relaxing.

Seriously, sometimes I just needed to get out of the house. Enjoying something fun with my husband or just getting a nice dinner at a restaurant helped tremendously. And yes, there were several instances where I was crying at a restaurant, but grieving just happens when it needs to- that’s life and that’s healing. By going out, we were taking advantage of the time to really process all that was happening and reconnect with one another which can be so hard to do at home with little ones. I also enjoyed connecting with friends and just having a distraction every now and then from the enormity of my emotions.

5) Don’t Be Afraid to Continue to Check Up on Your Friend

A year later, and yes, there are still some days that are hard. For the most part, I’m in a much better place than where I was a year ago, but it’s never easy losing someone. With that said, I’ve appreciated when others have asked how I’m doing or sent a text message to say that they’re thinking of me.

There have even been conversations where others were led to ask more about my dad, what he was like, how I’ll remember him, the special memories I hold of him, etc. I really appreciated the boldness of others to ask about my dad. I think sometimes it’s scary to ask about a deceased loved one, but most of the time, people are happy to share the memories they hold of the ones that they love. They don’t want their loved one to be forgotten. And I know if I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to share much, I would just keep it short and change the subject.

It’s so important that we recognize a loss in someone’s life and show love in the dark times because often that’s when others need it most. I’m thankful for the love and kindness that was shown to our family during this past year of grieving.

I hope that this list of ways to help a grieving loved one was helpful. If you have found other ways to love on someone who has lost a loved one, please share. I’d love to read more. Thank you.

Photo by Alexei Scutari on Unsplash

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