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How have friends helped you in times of grief?

On Midday Connection this week I’m going to look at Naomi, particularly at the time she was overcome with grief.  When I was overcome with grief I wrote this article for Focus on the Family:

grieving-womanAn invisible knife pierces my heart. Ever since my 59-year-old husband, Steve, lost his valiant battle with colon cancer, I’ve waited for him to call, to hear his hearty laugh — but silence looms. I long to talk to him about our five children — but he is gone. My body aches to be held by him in the night, to have his deep voice pray over me or to hear him recite “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” the nursery rhyme he often used to lull me to sleep — but I am alone under the covers.

My counselor tells me to accept the reality of my husband’s death, to stop tormenting myself. I must accept that I will go to him, but he will never come to me.

I don’t particularly enjoy being around Christians who haven’t suffered deeply. They can be like Job’s friends, offering pat answers, misapplying God’s truths, bumping up against the knife they do not see. They smile and quote Scriptures to me. I cringe.

They send a card with a platitude pointing out the silver lining to my pain. I close it quickly. I know they mean well. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart,” Proverbs 25:20 warns.

But, oh, the comfort of being with those who have suffered. They see the invisible knife. They stay by my side when I am not pleasant and listen to me drone on. They’ve been there, so they know better than to tell me God is sovereign and all things will work together for our good. I know that’s true, but I can’t hear it now.

High-tide grief is not the time to speak solutions. (Women who have had miscarriages tell me the last thing they want to hear is “You can have another baby.”) When one is grieving, it is the time for friends to be silent, to hug and to weep.

I don’t know why it diminishes grief to have someone weep with you, but it does. Friends who cry with me are like Ruth, who, having lost her own husband, could stand beside Naomi without trying to fix the unfixable. Ruth steadfastly stayed at Naomi’s side, knowing that if she did not grow weary in loving her mother-in-law, the woman who was saying, “Call me Bitter!” would become sweet again in God’s time.

The friends who comfort me the most:

• show up. (They came to the hospital, came to the funeral, came to my home.)

• write notes telling me what they loved about Steve, notes that don’t try to “fix” my pain. I am always pleased to open a letter instead of a ready-made card. Though there are exceptional cards, and I appreciate being remembered, a personal note is more likely to soothe my soul.

• talk about Steve. Some fear mentioning him, thinking it will remind me. Believe me, I haven’t forgotten — nor do I ever want to. I cherish friends who will still bring up his name and a memory. I love it if they miss him, too.

• don’t expect me to recover in a year. Instead, they are steadfast in asking me about how I’m handling my grief. They probe until I speak the truth, even if that truth releases tears. They aren’t frightened. They know tears bring healing.

• intercede by finding Scriptures and reciting them as prayers, knowing the Enemy attacks those who are down but will flee when the Word is prayed.

When friends say the wrong thing, I have come to see their heart behind the awkward words or sentiments. I must be gracious, for I have done exactly the same thing — trying to fix the unfixable. Even now, on this side of suffering, I can stammer on and say too much. Better to hug, to cry and to say simply, “I am so sorry.”

Dee Brestin is the author of The Friendships of Women and Falling in Love with Jesus. Her husband passed away in 2004.

How have friends helped you in times of grief?  What have you learned to do or to not do?

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  1. Thanks for sharing so deeply! It IS a good reminder to say less and hug more and the cry together when our loved ones are grieving.

  2. Thirty-some years ago, when my 29 year-old husband was dying from Hodgkins lymphoma, I had to get him down 8 steps and into the car to go to the hospital for chemo every day. We lived in New England and it was winter. Street plowing, after a particularly heavy snowstorm, buried our car, so I was outside with a snow shovel trying to dig the car out in time to get to the hospital. I was a very young and very tired woman facing a huge pile of snow with a small shovel. The neighbor man from across the street came over and stood talking while I shovelled. He wanted to tell me that he had put my husband’s name on the church prayer list, and the whole church was praying for him. Then he turned and went back into his nice warm house across the street. While I appreciated the prayers, what I really needed at the moment was help shovelling the snow. That has taught me that when someone is in a very stressful situation – especilly when they are grieving – what they might need most is a realitively simple task: washing the dishes, walking the dog, feeding the cat, folding clothes, putting gas in the car. Sometimes we forget that when we ask God for help or healing for someone, he uses our hands and feet in answer.

    One of the best things my friends did for me after my husband’s death was to give me warm socks and a big body pillow to sleep with. As you know, an empty bed is very cold.

    My best friend, my sister, helped me most by making me laugh. She was, and still is, terrific at telling me funny stories she remembered about my husband. We’d laugh until we cried and then she’d tell another story.

    By the way, Dee, I still miss him. Even though I’ve been happily married to my wonderful second husband for 32 years, I still miss my first true love. That reminds me that when I drift away from the Lord and shift my focus to worldly things, He longs for my return. That just makes me smile to know I am so loved!

  3. Though I have not experienced loss in this way, I did experience it in loss of health. When I was so sick for those 7 years, Oh the pain that came from things I heard from others. Those who were like Jobs friends. Things that hurt. Even then for me was the same. I just wanted people to love on me and not treat me like a baby but gauge how I was feeling and what I needed help with. It does cut to the heart when people say things about all the healings that took place in the Bible and for me to just have faith and the like. It did drive me to God like never before and in those most lonely times of feeling misunderstood He ministered to me greatly. Which in any suffering we all can relate to and be so thankful for. It still hurts but what a wonderful God to comfort us through the pain and then provide those who can also comfort from what they themselves have suffered. A beautiful cycle. Just some thoughts. If anything I am WAY more sensitive to others around me hurting in any way.
    Much love,

  4. I walked with you through “Falling in Love with Jesus.” I loved that study and shared it with many. Now I share in your loss. I lost my husband of 32 years. It will soon be six years now. He was God’s arms to me so I have to say I miss his touch the most. I’m still finding my way but God has been so very faithful in taking care of me and He will most certainly do the same for you.

    One example of comfort I’d like to share with you is as follows: My neighbors asked how they might help. We don’t have lights in our neighborhood and though I kept my outside lights on, it was so lonely coming home at night when I turned onto our dark road. So, I dropped my neighbors a postcard asking them to light up the night. In barely enough time for them to receive my card, the whole neighborhood was a flood of lights. It not only helped lighten an otherwise overwhelming darkness but also made my heart lighter knowing that every time they flipped the switch, they thought of me.

  5. Precious Dee,
    This road of grief is so hard to navigate at times. I have admired for a long time the way you are able to write and speak words of truth, comfort and tenderness. You have blessed me and so many others using the gifts God has given you.
    This past April we lost our oldest son to suicide. Our church family has blessed us in so many ways with their love, prayers and actions–gifts of time-spending days and nights at our home, cleaning our home, feeding us, gifts of money,providing a casket,bought clothing, made Easter dinner, paying for us to be able to go to a christian counselor, a summer vacation.
    I’ve been so blessed to be with people who have simply held me while I cried, cried with me–just let me/do whatever I needed at time–asked what it is that I needed.
    It’s been four months now and still struggle with what the day might bring. How do we go on, what does that look like? I had a difficult rebound coming back from vacation a few weeks ago-coming back to “real life” and had a break-down. Again, God provided-the right people at the right time at the right place.
    Recovery is so difficult. I have been blessed by those who have walked this road of suffering-there is an understanding that goes beyond words. Praise be to God for friends continuing to reach out and help
    Thank you and bless you. In Christ’s Love and mine, Brenda

  6. I wanted to recommend a book that was a huge help to me when my husband went to be with Jesus just over five years ago. “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On” by Stormie O’Martian. Most grief books sent my heart reeling but this book reminded me of who God is and that He would indeed be faithful. It was especially helpful in the night when I felt so alone. I’ve given many of these books away to other grieving friends. Though we may know who God is, at times of grief we need reminded. I heard someone say once, when you don’t understand God’s hand, trust His heart. I know the heart of God and I know He can be trusted. Isn’t it grand to know that amidst the tears He looks at our hearts as well? Time helps but Jesus does the healing.

  7. Dee,
    I have often thought of writing to you in the last few years. You may remember a cancer nurse you met at a conference in Iowa. She told you that no matter what God’s answer to your prayer for Steve’s healing, you would still be “winners” because Steve would be in God’s very presence and you would have the comfort of knowing that you would meet again in heaven. I was not being blase or insensitve to your pain, I had been at the bedside of many men and women who didn’t have that same comfort.
    In November of 2005, on a warm sunny Thanksgiving day, my husband was killed in a train accident, less then 1 mile from our home. Two hours before I had stood on our front porch, waved at him and can still remember the grin on his face, him waving at me and honking his horn wildly. I followed the ambulance down the road to the accident site and was the second vehicle to arrive at the scene. When I seen the parts of my husbands truck, I thought that I might die on the spot.
    Yet there was an amazing peace as I seen my youngest son, who was in the truck with him, walking toward me.
    The things that I remeber most about that time, was the friends who one way or the other heard about the accident and left their own Thanksgiving meals and came to my house. The neighbor who arrived at my house as I tried to make the needed phone calls and give instant answers to questions that I had not even really given thought to. She came and engulfed me in her arms and cried with me. I think about that hug today and remember thinking she was literally trying to pour her strength into me. Our friend and Pastor who dropped everything and came to take me to the hospital and arranged everything for me. How when it was time for the visitation, he thoughtfully arranged for each of us to have a bright colored paper and told us that if we were feeling overwhelmed to put the paper in view and he would come and help us get away for a moment alone. The men in the community who showed up the next day to do all the farm chores. One of my fondest memories in that time is the day that some of my nieghbors came and we just sat and talked, they told me stories of things my husband had done over the years to help them out, ways that he had touched their lives.
    I had plenty of the ones who would tell me things like “God will be your husband now” or “God wasn’t in this you know, so don’t be angry with Him” or “God has something better for you”, but I was blessed to have so many more who carried me in prayer, called me out of the blue, went out of their way to be present for me. This I know it was those who came and gave me their presence that left the greatest impact and brought the greatest comfort. I do remember that at one point I told God that I was amazed at how close He felt and the ease of access that I had to the throne room, and His answer to me was “other keep the door open for you at all times through their prayers for you.” In that I learned that even if I can’t physically be present I can still be an active participant in their comfort by keeping the throne room door open for them by praying.
    Thank you for this opportunity to share. In Christ, Deb

  8. I have often thought of that time with you in Iowa and have hoped and prayed that it in some way has brought you some comfort. Today I can look at those early days of grief and see God’s hand of comfort and the blessings He poured out to me. It really is an amazing story that I would like to share with you in more detail someday. Thanks for the response.

  9. I also recommend that book, Just Enought Light for the Step I’m On by Stormie. I also lost 3 people in my life unexpededly do to sudden deaths – one was my single girlfriend, one was my grandfather who was killed in a car crash and 1 was my Spiritual Mentor (Joanne’s husband who has written you a few times about her experiences.) He was an associate pastor in our church and my biggest supporter. He taught me about faith and God’s acceptance and how people should model that. I was born w/ a rare skin disorder and many people have prayed for my healing but none more fervent than my parents and my mentor Greg. Being born w/ something and growing up not knowing anything different, it has been hard to desire that healing. Greg showed me that I would still be the same person on the inside and I would still be the same spiritually – but that I would only look different on the outside. God looks at the inner appearance (the heart) but man looks at the outer. Some people cannot accept that I “look” different than the worlds standards, but I trust that God sees my heart and he knows the desires of my heart. That book has helped me as well in dealing with each day as it comes, trusting that He will provide just enough light for the step I am on. Friendships are very difficult for me to accquire b/c of my appearance so that is difficult the older I get. I soon will be 42 and have never dated even. I pray that he will continue to provide that light and bring people into my life that will accept me for who I am on the inside even if I don’t look like everyone else on the outside.

  10. Thank you for your reply Dee, it means a great deal to me that you “see” my heart. 🙂 Our sermon last night was on Envy and it was a reminder to keep my focus on God and not the world. When I get my focus off of Him then I envy what I do not have – a perfect body, a husband, children, close friendships and home of my own. God is enough even if none of those things ever happen this side of heaven. 🙂