It is easy to be a friend when life is joyful. We can all be true blue at parties, movies, and the beach. Friendship is one of God’s greatest blessings as He created us to need companionship. When heaviness falls and tragedy strikes, friendships are put to the test. Those who are only in the mix for fun and games flee during the tough times, but the solid ones stay close through the storm.
Have you ever walked with a friend, sweetheart, or loved one through the turbulence of a death? If not, the time is likely coming when you will. In just over a year, I lost three special people – two to cancer and one to a tragic car accident – and I got a front row seat for their family’s suffering. My instincts said, “Run! People are hurting! You will not know what to say. What if you cry and they think you are ‘stealing’ their grief?” In this case, my instincts were wrong. Grieving hearts appreciate support and knowing other people cared for and admired their loved one.
Some days, I want to travel back to a happier time – just to once again enjoy the faulty notion that the people I love will live forever.
Thankfully, to my knowledge, each of these special people knew Christ; and, even though my heart aches that they are not here now, I expect to see them again!
Someday you will probably get a text, phone call, or knock on your front door from a friend in anguish. In the shock, it may be difficult to know what to do. Here are a few ideas to pack away in the back of your mind for when that day comes.
- Be quiet. When someone is hurting, it is natural to fill the silence with platitudes and “comforting” comments. I know this temptation well. When I am with someone who is in the depth of new grief, I feel helpless. In my deep desire to ease the pain, I want to talk; but, the opposite is typically what he or she needs. Hurting people need friends who will listen, hug, and willingly endure their gut-wrenching outbursts. We cannot expect “normal” behavior from folks when they feel their entire world shutting in on them.
- Be close by. Your availability will be remembered. In twenty years, your friend or loved one may not remember all you did, but he or she will remember that you were there. Eric always says, “People will not remember your words but they will remember your presence.” I try to keep this in mind when someone I love is anguished. When I attend funerals in my hometown, I am often amazed by the thanks I receive from the families. In my mind, “I would not miss it! Of course, I came for the funeral.” But, to them, it is a blessing to know other people loved their family member enough to take the time to celebrate his or her life.
- Take over everyday chores. Can you wash the dishes in the sink? What about groceries? Is there any shopping and food preparation you can organize? Are people coming over? If so, can you vacuum and do some light dusting? If he or she needs to travel, can you help with the packing process? For your own future reference, you can make a list of twenty-five helpful chores so you do not have to scramble for ideas in the moment.
- Be a step ahead. This is another area where a list could come in handy. When someone is trying to make it minute to minute, he or she is not thinking clearly. Help him or her think through the events which need to take place and be available to help in any way you can. The family is coming, so sheets need to be changed and food needs to be purchased. The family wants a slideshow for the service, so pictures need to be found and organized. Run interference (if desired by the family) between your friend and those calling with condolences or asking how they can help. If you are good at coordinating, you can create a meal train. Offer your clear mind to your friend during their chaos.
- Create a comforting environment as best you can. Make and serve coffee. Bring meals to his or her chair. Have pillows and blankets nearby in case he or she suddenly feels the need to rest. Even a childhood stuffed animal might be a source of comfort. Notice the temperature in the room. Tidy up high traffic areas like the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Play soothing background music. If desired, read him or her passages from the Bible or other comforting books. And, sometimes sitting with him or her in silence creates the most comforting environment of all.
Tragedy has a way of bringing life into perspective. Those annoyances that once made us furious do not seem as important. Some life goals cease to be significant. We become keenly aware of what we have been neglecting and more determined than ever to invest in our relationships.
When you look back over your life, you probably will not remember the movie or ball game you missed while you were comforting a friend, but you probably will remember (and cherish) the friend.
In times of great sorrow, we get a beautiful opportunity to prove our love.
Have you ever held someone you loved while he or she grieved?