The time comes when those who we love and care about suffer significant losses.  It is important to remember that death doesn’t have a corner on the market when it comes to grief and grieving.  Each season of life brings change. And with every change, there is some element of loss. We are needed at these times as well as when a loved one passes on. Some of those life losses are:

  • Retirement
  • Birth of a Child
  • Empty nest scaling down
  • Losing a job
  • Divorce
  • Natural disasters
  • Personal injury or health issue
  • Financial problems

“Major life changes, even if they are for the best, can still leave a hole in your heart.” ~ Michelle Carlstrom

Of course, we want to provide comfort or give support to our family and friends. But it can be difficult to know what actions would be best when reaching out. While pondering what to do, I propose the following two things as top priorities:

Thing One: Be there. Your first and foremost responsibility is to show up when you live nearby.  There is no reason for a call to announce your coming. If nobody is at home, leave a note at the front door saying you stopped by and that you’ll be back later in the day.  You don’t have to bring anything but yourself when you do connect.  Sit down with the person and listen.  Touch a shoulder, pat a hand and keep your advice to yourself. For those who live far away, make the phone call and listen, listen, listen. 

Thing Two: Commit. After your initial contact, construct a plan for helping.  It is not necessary to ask for approval from anyone.  If what you are doing is unwanted you’ll find out.  Keep it simple and promise yourself to do things beyond the immediate time of loss.  Cook some meals and freeze some more.  Clean up the kitchen. Help pack bags or boxes. Get several ‘Thinking of You’ cards and send them over a period of weeks.  Take your loved one out to a movie. Have them over for drinks.  Send little care packages if you aren’t able to come in person…and keep calling on the phone.

Sometimes good intentions can cause damage.  Mostly it’s not so much what we do that hurts…it’s what we say or what we fail to do.  The effects of poorly phrased sentiments or unwanted advice can permanently affect a relationship. With that in mind, the following suggestions might be useful.

Five Don’t Do’s When Trying to Help

  1. Don’t Minimize. I will never forget being at the funeral of a sixteen year old girl who died in an automobile accident.  A caring neighbor told the mother that she was so fortunate to have the love of her two remaining children.  Minimizing the loss of others does absolutely nothing but offend.
  2. Don’t Offer. Obviously you should never offer something that you cannot deliver.  But the best practice is not to offer at all.  If you want to do something to help just do it.  Never, EVER, say; “If there is anything I can do, just let me know.”
  3. Don’t Give Perspective. Telling a person who is suffering from a significant loss that life will get better is just careless and cruel.  They may be sure that things can’t get much worse, but seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is something that will happen for them in their own time.  They hardly need your view from the mountaintop.
  4. Don’t Use Condolence Platitudes. Nobody really wants to hear the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss”.  It’s not about you.  Greet the person, hug, tell them you love them. Avoid phrases like “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” Send a prayer card or light a candle. NEVER say that God has a plan. The person is probably not very happy with God when grieving their loss.  In other words…use less words altogether.
  5. Don’t Stop Coming. Lots of people show up at the time of loss.  Then, a week or so later nobody is there.  This is when you step back in.  There is no time limit to grief.  If you think your loved one is still aching, keep coming by.  A text message or phone call is never as healing as your physical presence.

There is nobody who can comfort and support better than you.  Your strength is in sharing your time and love. Our uniquely individual healing hearts, hands, and ears are exactly what is needed when things get tough.  

Posted by Robert Jones

I have dedicated my life to serving adolescents and adults who suffer from the effects of childhood abuse and addictions. This work manifested in the creation or co-creation of seven outpatient treatment centers around the southeast. I studied at The School of Servant Leadership, Jubilee Center, in Washington, DC with Gordon Cosby and have been a retreat leader and faith formation director. My wife, Bonita and I live in Memphis, TN.

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