We have all felt the hard truth that the world is not always kind to us. Suffering is real. Those we love get sick, we get our hearts broken, we hear those dreadful words: “I’m sorry, we have to let you go” or “The tumor is malignant.” In life, things often do not go the way we envision them.
But when tragedy strikes in the lives of the people we know and love, we are often left feeling helpless. We want to make things better and we are frustrated when we can’t unwind what’s happened. We might freeze, not knowing what to say. Or we might try to mend a broken heart with good intentions, but end up saying too much and being unhelpful. In order to best help our hurting friends, we have to think about the ways in which we come alongside and grieve with them.
…you are not Superwoman. You do not have the power to erase this tragedy from your friend’s story. And you don’t have to.
Next time it is your turn to be a shoulder to lean on, try to keep these things in mind so that you can help your friend grieve and heal in a healthy way:
Don’t try to fix it.
This is probably the most common mistake we make when we try to help hurting friends. We mean well, of course… we don’t like to see the people we love in pain! But hear me, friends: you are not Superwoman. You do not have the power to erase this tragedy from your friend’s story. And you don’t have to. You don’t need to come up with the perfect words. If you don’t know what to say, simply say that, instead of trying to concoct a magical recipe of words that will take all the pain away.
Instead, let your friend feel what she needs to feel. There is a grieving process and although it might look different for everyone, it’s still a process and it is healthy to go through it instead of trying to push it away or put a band-aid over it.
Make yourself available.
Maybe it’s letting your friend know that you are here to cook a meal (or ten) for her. Maybe it’s taking her kids off her hands for a day or a weekend. Or maybe it’s being there for her with your time and emotional energy, to be an ear to listen, or just to sit. In reality, however, there might not be anything practical that you can do for her. But be sure to communicate that you are here for her if she needs anything. Just simply hearing, “You are not alone in this. I am here; let me know if there is anything you need” can bring an immense amount of comfort to a hurting soul.
Hold the judgments.
Sometimes our suffering comes as a result of choices. When we experience grief as a consequence of our own actions, our sadness is most often exacerbated by the guilt we lay on ourselves. So as an ally, the last thing we would want to do is lay even more shame onto our hurting friend. It will only make things worse, so be gentle. Remember that we all have made mistakes and have had to pay the consequences for them. Just because we may have brought it onto ourselves doesn’t make it less painful or less real. Give grace to your friend and reassure her that she is not defined by her mistakes. Be willing to listen first and then talk about the “lessons learned” after the shock has worn off.
Suffering has an incredible ability to change us into better, stronger, more beautiful individuals if we let it; and it is our duty to let our friends go through this process in its entirety.
Embrace the process.
There will probably be time for giving advice, for processing, for digging underneath the wounds to find the silver lining. Try and let those conversations happen on your friend’s timing instead of own. It would be easy for us to want to speed things up because we want our friend to be “back to her old self again.” But we have to recognize that everyone processes differently. We must use discretion in how we encourage our friend and be patient with her. Suffering has an incredible ability to change us into better, stronger, more beautiful individuals if we let it; and it is our duty to let our friends go through this process in its entirety.
For today, if your friend needs to talk, just listen. Be okay with silence if that’s what she needs. Of if she’s angry for now, let her be angry. Instead of trying to convince her to change the way she feels, just hold her hand in her anger. In doing so, you are allowing her mind, body, and emotions to heal naturally, the same way you would for a wound on your skin. Let your gentle presence be like the stitches on a cut, holding her heart together until it heals.
Be genuine. And don’t be afraid of the hard questions.
After the initial shock wears off and reality starts to sink in, if your friend wants to talk, be gentle, but dig in. Ask the tough stuff. If she’s ready to process her affliction, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s craving for someone to look her in the eye and ask her the hard questions that others might be too afraid to ask. Is she scared? Is she doubting things she didn’t used to? Is she struggling to find purpose in her tragedy? So after months have passed, don’t forget to ask, “How are you doing? How are you really doing?” Give her the freedom to be honest about how she is dealing with her grief by being genuine and brave with your questions.
Comfort yourself too.
It’s hard to watch the people you love go through a tough time. We end up feeling the emotions with and for them and we feel the weight of their pain on our days as well. So don’t forget to take care of yourself. Let yourself feel what you need to feel as you do the same for them. Remind yourself of the possibilities that awful circumstances can bring to a person’s life and have hope that this event will bring strength and beauty into your friend’s life in the long run.
Remind yourself of the possibilities that awful circumstances can bring to a person’s life and have hope that this event will bring strength and beauty into your friend’s life in the long run.
When tragedy strikes, we need the support of our people, and they need ours. It’s not easy, but let’s come alongside each other in our suffering and help one another grieve. Let us be a place of grace and rest that will walk the path to healing alongside the people we love.
Photo by André Freitas