Four Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

When crisis and tragedy touch the lives of loved ones and friends, it is sometimes difficult to know the best way to respond to their circumstances.

What do I say?  What should I do?  How do I know that they want me to help?

The Bible tells the ancient story of Job, who was stricken with a painful disease.  (Job 2:7-13) Instead of leading his family and running his business, he spent his time isolated from everyone.  With no care from family or servants, loneliness was profound.  His wife even tells him:  “curse God and die.”  Certainly not the best of circumstances!

Oil painting by Ilya Yefimovich-Repin – 1869

It was at this time that three friends from three different communities heard about Job’s crisis and came calling to comfort him.  As I studied this passage, four significant things that happened caught my attention:

1.    The three friends came together without an invitation, 
2.    They wept with Job in his adversity, 
3.    They sat with him during his grief, 
4.    They didn’t say anything.

When his friends heard that Job had been stricken with this horrible disease, they “made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him” (Job 2:11b)  These three, who lived in separate communities away from Job and each other, didn’t ask if they could visit. Using the slow, ancient social media of the day, they were unstoppable in planning their visit.    

When a friend is hurting, we can also make a plan to visit and to help.  A hurting person may appear to not want the company, but as Margaret Feinberg writes in her book “Fight Back with Joy”, we need to “reach out and break the silence.  No matter how much time has gone by. Your presence matters.” Reaching out will mean more to them than we will ever know.  Speaking from experience, I have begged off from having someone visit, but truthfully, I craved it.    

Meet the real needs of your friend.  Helping with groceries and childcare or running errands is something that your friend can appreciate when she has so many other things on her mind.  If a close neighbor, provide small tasks that will relieve her family or caregivers like taking out their trash on trash day or arranging to have your teen mow her lawn each week.  Do not expect your friend to call if she needs something, but instead reach out and give realistic suggestions, then follow through with the offer. 

When the three friends arrived at Job’s home, they didn’t even recognize him.  They began to weep, and as part of this ancient mourning custom, tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  In solidarity, they expressed their sorrow at the pain Job had to endure and sat with him “on the ground seven days and seven nights.” (Job 2:13) They stayed to comfort and console Job.

Many people who have experienced tragedy say that it is not always difficult to manage the crisis at the beginning when friends and family are constantly around. It is the days afterward when everyone goes home and back to their own lives that life becomes the toughest for grief-stricken. “Crisis doesn’t end when the funeral is over, radiation ends, divorce papers are filed or the lawsuit is finalized.  It continues for months and even years afterward.  If you have a meaningful friendship with someone who has experienced real loss, consider setting a reminder on your calendar to check back every few weeks.  Keep letting them know that you love them, you’re praying for them and you’re still with them.”

As Job’s friends sat with him, “no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) Not a word was spoken for seven entire days!  This may have been part of the traditional mourning process, but regardless, it was clearly their actions that spoke louder than any words.

When a friend is grieving, it is okay to mourn with them, listen to them and just bethere with them.  When the conversation does take place, do not allow your conversation to go to unhealthy places with Bible clichés, mention of “God’s plan” or similar statements because they “bruise rather than bless, hurt rather than heal.”  Instead, it is best to tell them that they are loved, your heart aches with them, they are being prayed for and you are sorry for what they are going through. 

Finally, friends need to pray for friends.  Pray with her if she agrees.  Speaking from experience, Margaret writes, “Ask God how to pray for me.  Praying for us is good, but asking God how to pray is better. .. ask if you can pray with us.  Be ready (and not offended) if we say no.  When we say yes, instead of praying for what you think we need, ask the Holy Spirit how to pray before you begin.”  

Like the three determined friends of Job, I also desire to be the type of friend who will reach out without waiting, mourn with her in her grief, and be a reliable presence when she needs it.  Even if I don’t know what to say, I know that I can tell her that I love her, I’m praying for her, and I am standing with her through the journey.  It’s the least that I can do.

Learn how to practice defiant joy no matter what your circumstance and to embrace a life that’s richer and fuller than you’ve ever known by reading Margaret Feinberg’s new book: Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.”

Quotes in this post, other than biblically referenced, are from the chapter “8 Things Those Facing Crisis Can’t Tell You (But Wish They Could)”, Fight Back with Joy  (2015) by Margaret Feinberg, pp 183-186. Affiliate links may be included in this post. Your click-through and any purchases are greatly appreciated and help with the cost of maintaining this blog.  

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