Ah, friend. I don’t know if you’re reading this blog today because you’re hurting or you’re hurting for a person close to you. I hope you feel brave, strong, and the source of all comfort — Jesus. And even if you don’t feel any of those things, I hope you have people to share with and lean on. All of the things on this list are real and true things my wonderful friends and family did and said to me and for my family. I don’t take that privilege for granted — and I hope that if you have a friend who is hurting that you will take the opportunity to reach out.
1.”I’m sorry they’re gone. You must miss them a lot. I’m bringing tacos.”
Recognize their pain and offer your time. Your presence matters far more than any words you might say. Jesus did not give them same tired phrases to every hurting person he encountered — so why should we, if we follow Christ, settle for cliches? My friends and family refrained from quoting bumper sticker phrases to me. It was refreshing and soul nourishing.
2. “Would you like to tell me a story about them?”
Invite your friend to share. Use discretion with this one — my brain was so foggy at times that I could barely remember what I ate for breakfast that morning. Each person is pretty unique in how they approach the world — so why should we expect everyone to grieve the same? But in general, I believe that telling stories and reminiscing about people we’ve lost is a step in the right direction.
3. “Would you prefer a homemade meal, or gift cards/cash?
Provide real, physical help. Give wholesome meals with veggies and protein and visa cards that can you be used anywhere. Pay attention to what your friend asks for so that their needs are met. It’s not fun to admit that you need help, but it also sucks to worry about physical/financial needs when there’s a lot else you’re worrying about.
4.”Hey, I’m thinking of you.”
Acknowledge the hard days. If you already text them on happy days, what’s stopping you from texting them on sad days? the anniversary of their loved one’s death and/or birthday in your calendar, that way you can text or call them on that day. Your friend may or may not respond, and that’s ok. Reaching out means a lot.
5.”Do you want to talk about your grief today, or would it be better to talk about other things?”
Give your friend the freedom to talk as little or as much about their grief as they are comfortable. Ask your friend this question early on in a social situation, that way you’re not torturing yourself wondering if you should bring it up, and they’re not torturing themselves worrying if you will or won’t talk about it.
6. Ask yourself: “What’s my motive for saying this?”
Be thoughtful about your own agenda when talking with your friend. Do I want to make myself feel better, satisfy my own curiosity, or am I genuinely showing interest and care? It’s ok to have mixed motives (we all do). Never underestimate the power of a gentle, quiet presence. A person willing to just go for a walk or sit and watch a movie in silence is an incredibly powerful way to start to heal.
7.”I’m here for you.”
Be faithful in any promises you make. A little empathy goes a very long way. Chances are, things are going to be very hard for a long time. Some things will get a lot easier, some things will always be painful. Be as consistent as possible since your friend is riding an emotional rollercoaster.
8.”This must be really tough. Can I make it easier by…”
Focus on your particular strengths in the friendship. Don’t expect to be their only Hero. That’s too much pressure for one person. One of my friends sent me punny cards to make me laugh. Another went for long walks. Another brunch and coffee dates. Thankfully, my spouse or family didn’t have to be ALL of these things.
9. “Thank you for sharing your life/story with me.”
Thank your friend for any time or energy they entrust to you. Thank them for being open and vulnerable with you. They don’t have to — and if they don’t it’s not a reflection of how good or bad of a friend you are. Friendships go through different seasons — whether it’s because of significant loss or happy life changes. You only have control over how faithful you are.
10.”I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Own up to your mistakes without making it a big deal. You might say the wrong thing, and that’s totally ok. I rarely expected my friends and family to be perfect, and the times that I did I had to confess my own false expectations to Jesus. If you feel like you rambled, overshared, or said something insensitive — an apology is usually all that’s needed!
If you haven’t already noticed, most of this list isn’t really about what you say — it’s an encouragement to help you find where you can start the journey with your friend. All of these phrases are merely a jumping off point towards the long-game. Showing up to the memorial, the funeral, or the first anniversary is just the beginning for your friend. I’m guessing that if you read through this whole list you care a lot about your grieving friend, and they must be pretty cool to have a good friend like you.