Thank you all for your kind words about my post on grief. I am obviously in a very raw place, even as I begin to process some of what’s happened to me over the past year– so thank you for being gentle with me. Jesus is definitely the hero of my story, but my friends and family come in a very close second. Very few of them can relate to the degree of suffering I have felt, and yet they have been the real, tangible arms of Jesus to me. I’ve kept a running list since May of all the ways people have shown up for me. It is pages and pages long and rarely a day passes without a name and a comfort being added to the list. If you know someone who is grieving, maybe these ideas can help you. Because while Jesus is the only comfort for my soul– my body and mind and heart have often been refreshed by TANGIBLE love from others. Love that you can see and touch and feel. This is what grieving people need.
Words and prayers. No one knows what to say to me. Most of the dear people in my life have told me so at one point or another. And yet they offer words of comfort and prayers that serve as warm blankets on the days of bitter cold pain. I have gotten so many letters. From high school friends. From college friends. Family who are far away. Real, handwritten letters on thoughtful cards that show up at the right moments. Messages and texts from complete strangers who are praying for me. Prayers in the middle of my living room when I’m slumped over without any hope left. I’m wrapped with love as people bring me to the throne of the only one who Really Understands.
Food. It nourishes any soul, and this one in particular. Food is one my love languages and it’s a language that is kind of confused right now. I mentioned the identity piece before and I’ll say it again. My love for cooking and food were heavily wrapped up in my marriage and it’s confusing to even think about food when it hurts my heart so deeply. So my friends have fed me when I can’t think about food. They’ve showed up for months with meals, gift cards, dinner invites, and homemade cakes. Someone who is grieving cannot think about what they will eat or feed their kids. It’s the straw that breaks the camels back three times a day. So feed your hurting friends. And eat with them. Anyone who’s eaten alone with three moderately capable self-feeders knows an extra hand would be welcomed.
Gifts. This sounds so self-serving. But I’m not writing to say “send me gifts, y’all!” No, I’m writing to honor the gifts people have sent me. After eleven years of a shared life every piece of clothing, household item, piece of art, piece of jewelry– everything is loaded with emotional significance. But there is comfort in being wrapped in a brand new scarf, handmade by someone who barely knows me. Or in staring at new artwork, hand-lettered by a dear friend. Or in falling asleep to a new diffuser with calming essential oils. Or in wearing an heirloom family ring or hand-me-down necklace. Or in filling a new journal with thoughts that don’t have past pains already recorded in them. Or in cooking with a new pizza stone, microwave, or toaster oven that some friend’s pitched in to help me buy. These all create new patterns and new environments that feel safe. Every time I wear something new I feel wrapped in love. Every time someone shows up at my door with flowers or printed family photos or a box of snacks for my kids — I’m forced to remember that I’m worth something to a lot of people.
Books and Music. Send grieving people books. Our minds are a mess. A gigantic mess filled with self-doubt and hurt. We need truth like no tomorrow. Send us books on the particular thing we are going through (Unraveling is incredible). Send us books on God’s character (None like Him and Wearing God have been transformational). Send us devotionals on suffering (Beside Still Waters is such a comfort). Send us funny novels that make life seem fun again (All the Harry Potter. All the Time). And we need music. It fills up our minds with truth and sometimes speaks a language deeper than words alone. Plus, music is loaded and charged with memories. Hearing new songs and falling in love with new bands brings it’s own kind of healing. Bonus if the songs have meaningful lyrics that bring us back to the truths of God (Sandra McCraken’s two albums Psalms and God’s Highway have been such encouragements to me).
Support. This goes without saying, but asking someone how they are doing when you already know the answer can get exhausting. I’m sure. And yet my friends always ask. They always care. They always say, “what can I do?” This means the world. People showing up to move me, and move me again, and move me yet again. People sitting with me. People meeting real needs like lawn mowing, babysitting, getting groceries, paying bills, fixing toilets, sending cash, helping pack/unpack, cleaning, running water tests, paying for counseling or doctor appointments, and helping with electronics. The reality is with this type of loss my workload has doubled. And a lot of the new things that I’m responsible for I’ve never done before. So people showing up and helping me figure out how to do those things and doing the things I can’t do — it’s everything. And a lot of the old things that I’m used to doing have become harder and more complicated with the additional physical, mental, and emotional stress of grief. Getting help with things I “should be able to do but just can’t right now” — that’s huge too.
Activities. We know we aren’t the most fun people to be around in our grief. So when you invite us out anyway — um, that’s some serious love right there. Knowing someone still wants to have dinner with me or go out for a glass of wine? Or watch a movie with me? Or take me and my kids on a hike? Or take me away from life for a day and go to a theme park with me? It makes me feel human again. Sometimes I even laugh for awhile and life doesn’t feel so heavy. Time is the only thing that can bring healing, so being distracted every once in awhile in the waiting/healing period is so helpful.
Affection. This can come in many forms. Appropriate physical affection is hugely comforting. I’ve had people just sit and hold my hand as I cry. Hugging, back rubs, foot rubs, sitting right next to and entering someone else’s personal space. After a decade of marriage, entering the bleak world of no physical affection is really startling. I have found myself bawling getting a facial or massage or a pedicure, it’s so meaningful to have someone care for you in that way. But compliments, encouraging words, and terms of endearment are precious too. Having someone call me sweetie, or tell me my hair looks pretty, or just hearing “I love you” — all of these are so powerful. My kids aren’t great at unprompted “thank you’s” or “that was a great dinner mom, thanks for working so hard”. So it is important to hear from others, “You’re doing great. You are a wonderful mom. You work so hard and I’m so proud of you.”
It truly does take a village, no one person could be everything for another, but a community of people can provide waves of comfort. God’s only plan for showing tangible love on earth is through other people. Every time someone makes the effort to love and care, it’s a reminder of God’s love and care for me. Grief like this is a marathon, not a sprint. My dear friends have been walking me through this since November of last year and I’m so thankful they are still in this with me. If someone you know is grieving commit to them for the long haul. These problems don’t go away overnight, and sometimes the pain doesn’t diminish for months or years. Grief is lonely and isolating. Show up for grieving people in anyway you can: it might be the only thing getting them through the day.