Ways to help someone through loss.

April 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm 8 comments

After our son Paul was killed 12.5 years ago, people were so kind and compassionate to us and I always thought that sometime I would try to write down some things we learned were helpful and sometimes hurtful, during our lengthy journey through loss.

Having spent the last 10 days with our friends, the McCombs, as they are walking this winding road, I thought I would make a few suggestions you might find helpful now or in the future.

  • Just being there for us means the most.  Keep us company, watch through the night with us.  Don’t search for profound words or try to think of doing something meaningful.  Your presence and doing the simplest tasks is the most helpful. 
  • Make suggestions and initiate contact with us. We are not going to call you for help even if we need it, even if you might be someone we know would help. 
  • It is important for us to have our space and we do need time alone, but we also lack the emotional energy to structure our lives during the grieving process.  Having someone in the house who takes over the details of running the home is so helpful as we sometimes can’t even think of the things we need.
  • Help us feel safe to show real and strong emotion.  It may be very hard for you to see us in such pain but it is imperative for us to know it is OK to lose it around you.  We are sorry if our grief is hard for you but people who are safe for us to let down around are such a blessing.  Don’t try to stop it, just hug us till it passes or sit quietly till we get it back under control.
  • Help us remember the good things about the one we have lost.  Tell us stories about how you knew them and how they touched your life.  Don’t leave out the stories you think will make us sad, we want to feel sad just as we want to laugh.  If something you say makes us cry, even causes us to lose control, don’t worry about it; you have allowed us to know more about the one we loved and to grieve as we need to.
  • There is always a huge wave of support at the time of loss and for several days after but we will still be at this process six months from now and a year from now.  We will get so we can handle it better but we will still be grieving and your presence and concern will be so appreciated.  Call us just to check up and offer to visit, if we are not up to it at the time you call, don’t take it personally, try again.
  • Let us tell our story over and over again.  It is how we process our grief.  We may say some things that shock you or cause you to want to fix things.  Don’t judge us by what we say or how we feel.  We have a lot to think through and process and in time we will come to answers that will satisfy us, even if they might not satisfy you.
  • Lose the cliches, religious platitudes or easy answers.  “How are you doing” is the worst for us as we want to say, “we feel like s____; what did you expect!” but what we say is something innocuous like “fine” or “good.”  You may not be able to help us now and that could be hard for you, but remember we have to do most of this ourselves, you can’t fix it, so please don’t try.  If you hear us say something you don’t agree with, it’s OK we will figure it out in time.  Let us go through it our way.
  • Have confidence in us, believe in us, be sensitive to our needs and be patient.  We will get better, but it is going to take longer then you might think it should, or want it to.  We will find healing but it could get rough before we do.
  • Be on the lookout for destructive behaviors.  If we start drinking more than we used to or being more of a loner than usual, ask us questions to see if there might be a problem we can’t see.  We may need you to keep an eye out for us when things are especially fragile.
  • Make us laugh.  I am told that laughter releases the same endorphins that crying does, so help us laugh a lot.  But don’t be surprised if the next minute we are crying.
  • Help us do the hard things.  We may need to handle some insurance issues that are difficult, or things related to the funeral may be too hard for us.  Your offer to walk through it with us is invaluable.  There are a lot of things to do that come with the loss of a loved one.  If we want to visit the accident site, offer to go with us, we will need the support.
  • Learn about grief and grieving.  The more you know about it, the more you will be able to help us help ourselves.  Grief is a process, and we must go through it but we don’t need or want to go alone.  There is a great book that a friend gave the McCombs that can be of help: Tear Soup by Schwiebert and DeKlyen:Grief Watch 1999  www.tearsoup.com

Well, that is enough.  I just read a few to Leslee and she agreed with what I read to her, especially the one about asking “How are you doing!”


Entry filed under: Culture, Faith, Friendship, Thoughts.

Time to love more deeply. Home.

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. .justin  |  May 20, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    they don’t teach this in “seminary” do they???

  • 2. Lorie  |  May 10, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    What a great post. As I watch, and try to help my very dearest freind griev the loss of her Mother to Breast cancer, I want to prepare myself for My own mothers death which is sure to come from her stage 4 lung cancer which was diagnosed last October. But how? How do you prepare for something that powerful and deep?
    Life is so odd sometimes, is the idea that somehow, by me helping my freind thru her grief I too shall somehow learn my own lessons about my own grief process? I’am both frightened and awed by the power and the grip that grief can take on people.
    I shall remember to say “what are you doing” instead of “how are you doing”.

  • 3. Royal  |  April 27, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Your words show a savvy that I wish could be learned in some other way. Unfortunately that is not the case and I am heartbroken to say that they helped me help others. Thank you for your guidance.

  • 4. Linda  |  April 25, 2007 at 10:21 am

    I Thes. 4:13 says we are to not grieve as those who have no hope. It doesn’t say we won’t or shouldn’t grieve – that is a lie from the enemy of our souls. Our grief doesn’t come from no faith or no hope; it comes from the deep sense of lose and from the very real pain (a physical pain) in our hearts.

    **When we love deeply, we grieve deeply.**

    Allowing others the freedom to discover their own grief path is a gift you can give – give it – to yourself and to others.

    Be comfortable with tears – yours and other’s – they can be a bond, an encouragement.

    Remember: it takes lots of energy – emotional, spiritual, mental and physical – to grieve. Keep that in mind when you visit or call.

    When Paul died I often said to myself but not to too many others (not every one is “safe,”):

    It is well with my soul, but my heart is broken.

    There are days, like the days since we learned of the lose of Willie, where I still say those words.

    Are you “safe” enough to hear those words?

  • 5. melody  |  April 24, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you. Your list reminds me of a book, Lament for a Son, which tells of a similar story of loss of a son and their grieving process. Everything you said rings true with his story as well, and really for any deep loss in general.

  • 6. btarmsfamily  |  April 24, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Thanks for clarifying and articulating many of the things I remember thinking in the time after Paul’s death. I can’t believe it has been so long ago. I remember HATING the “how are you?” question so much but actually found myself asking it the other day. So even walking through this process doesn’t make you immune to dumb questions, insensitive comments (especially ones you didn’t even know where insensitive), and thoughtless actions.

    Death and the grief process are so hard and last so much longer than we think they should and more to the point…. longer than other people think it should. Death changes you forever and people on the outside have a hard time understanding that. It changes you emotionally and spiritually, but it even changes you physically. It almost seems like when you are in the deepest trenches of grief your brain doesn’t even work the way it once did. I guess I am just adding my two cents.

    12 years is a long time away from Paul’s death, but I still miss him, still wish he was here, and I can still see him… Sometimes I even imagine what he would be saying or doing in a situation were he to still be here. How is that for “getting over it!” By the way… NEVER say those words.

  • 7. Warren Scandrett  |  April 23, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    A very comprehensive treatment of the subject.

    You are probably familiar with Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven” (you may have recommended it to me). This may not be the time for this book for the McCombs, perhaps later.

    Someone told me that “What” are you doing is better than “How”. That makes sense to me.

  • 8. Kasey  |  April 23, 2007 at 8:46 pm


    This is such a great post! I read a great book in college once on the subject of supporting people through grief and loss. However, your bulleted, no-nonsense, intimate outline is much more succinct and powerful. I plan on keeping this post forever. Thank you for writing this.
    I miss my Shelton family during times like these.

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