Thank you for your kind thoughts and words about the loss of my sister. I always appreciate it that you take time to read my thoughts, ponder it and use it in whatever way you can – whether it's identifying with loss and grief yourself, having a moment of gratitude for the people in your life, or just sympathizing with a pain you have never had to deal with before.
I have been asked, on occasion, what one should do or say when their friend is dealing with grief. I'll share some thoughts with you in case you ever need them.
When my sister first died, I was in a place in my life that was entirely non-conducive to grieving (which begs the question, what situation IS conducive?). I had just had a serious breakup with my boyfriend, I was living with my best friend and her family, and I had to start my first post-college job just days after the funeral. I was grappling with an intense pain and had almost no where to go to be alone with my grief. And when I was with my friends, I was surprised at the way they reacted to my grief, and the things even my best friends would say. I was surprised at the expectations they had of me just a few months after it all happened. People were frankly impatient and uncomfortable with the broken version of myself and really wanted me to sort of, well, get back to normal. They had their own ideas of how I should be, what I should do, how much or how often I should cry, and what activities I should resume and when. I just wanted solitude, and time, and for people to quit trying to make a permanently bad situation better.
Grief is not something you can fix, or even understand, or plan out. If you're going through it, you just have to go through it. And if a friend is going through it, you just have to let her. Call her to check in. Be there with a box of Kleenex and a listening ear and be prepared to feel uncomfortable at times. You may not know what to say. That's okay. Don't stress yourself out trying to make it all right. As long as your friend is not spiraling into destructive behavior (excessive drinking, suicidal thoughts, etc), then let her deal with it her way. As my spinning instructor always says, "This is YOUR ride." If you're dealing with a grieving friend, remember – this is her ride. And it may be a long one. Hang in there. She really does need you.
If you're one of the grieving ones, here's my best advice: Have patience with the living. One of the biggest tragedies of grief is the broken relationships it leaves in its wake. That's because grief is a necessarily self-absorbed process. The grieving person is going through an intense number and range of emotions. And the friends of the grieving are looking for a day when its not "all about you." Your friends and family are probably trying their best. They may say the wrong thing or rub you the wrong way. That's because it's a tough thing to be the friend of someone in such un-fixable pain. They want to make it better, and they can't. So have some patience with them, too. And keep this in mind: the hole in your heart cannot be filled by any friend, family member, or addiction. This is LOSS. The only one who can truly help you heal is God. So don't look for His mercy and grace in any person or thing on this earth. You will only be disappointed.
I ran across this page in a book that I thought I'd share with you. If your friend is grieving, this a good example of re-framing your approach to him or her. If you are the grieving one, I encourage you to give this to your friends.
What Can I Say to My Grieving Friend?
Instead of: "I know exactly how you feel."
Try: "I can only imagine what you're going through."
Instead of: "At least he doesn't have to suffer anymore."
Try: "He suffered through a lot, didn't he?"
Instead of: "It's God's will."
Try: "One comfort I find is God's promise to never abandon us."
Instead of: "She wouldn't want you to grieve."
Try: "It's hard to say good-bye, isn't it?"
Instead of: "You can't be angry with God."
Try: "God understands even when we're upset."
Instead of: "At least you have other family members." [or any other "at least," for that matter]
Try: "There's no way to replace the one you've lost, is there?"
Instead of: "Don't you think it's time to get on with living your life?"
Try: "Everyone has to grieve in their own way, don't they?"
Instead of: "Don't talk about the funeral–it will only make you sad."
Try: "We can talk about whatever you want."
Instead of: "Time heals all wounds."
Try: "Time will lessen the pain, but you'll always have a part of him/her with you."
Instead of: "You've got to be strong."
Try: "I want you to know you can be yourself around me"
Excerpt from the book Disrupted: Finding God in Illness & Loss by Virgil M. Fry, Houston, TX
[reprinted with permission]