Supporting a Grieving Friend

First Day In Heaven

Walking With A Friend Who Has Lost Someone Special - by Pete Larson

When you have a friend who has lost a loved one, it's difficult to know how to best love and support them. Grief is a complex process, and sometimes, the best way to comfort someone is through your presence and understanding rather than finding the perfect words to say.

Many young people have never had to walk with a friend who has just experienced this kind of loss in their life. When it happens, there can be a lot of questions, and a lot of feelings, to deal with. Confusion. Shock. Numbness. Fear. Sadness. Anger. All these feelings are normal.  

Death is hard. It can feel unfair. It can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we want to blame someone. Often, we blame God. We wonder, why would a God who says he loves us unconditionally take the one we love? How could a loving God let us experience so much pain and sorrow? Why didn’t He stop it? Why didn’t He heal the person who died? And if you or your friend feel anger towards God, go ahead and let Him know. He can handle it. It’s okay to ask God hard questions.

I’ve wondered about these things many times. I lost my dad when I was ten and my mom when I was in my thirties. I’ve experienced the deaths of relatives and friends. And I’ve been to the funerals of nearly a dozen young people. Each time, I found myself asking the same question. Why?

Over the years, I’ve come to understand one truth. To God, death is not evil. To God, death is a fulfillment of His promise that we will spend eternity with Him. 

Jesus said in the Gospel of John,  Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

So, how can you care for and love a friend who is grieving? Here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

Pray for Them: Prayer is powerful. It invites God into our grief and allows the Holy Spirit to do healing work. 

Be Present: Show your friend that you’re there for them. Sometimes, simply being present and available is more important and comforting than saying anything.

Listen: Allow your friend to express their emotions without feeling the need to provide immediate solutions or silver linings. It is tempting to try to say the right thing to ease their heartache. Sometimes, all they need is someone to listen and acknowledge their feelings.

I have a friend who wrote a beautiful song called “Not Right Now.” It talks about what someone needs from a friend in the middle of the storm. It cautions us to not want to go in and tell the person who is suffering that it will be alright. Most of the time, what they really need is for us just to show up. 

Not Right Now - by Jason Gray

Don’t tell me when I’m grieving
That this happened for a reason
Maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die
For new ones to come alive
But not right now

While I wait for the smoke to clear
You don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here
And together we can pray for peace
To the one acquainted with our grief

I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now
Not right now
No, not right now. 


Show Up:  Don’t be afraid to stop by or to pick up the phone. If they can’t answer, leave a message just saying that you are thinking about them. A text message is good. A phone call is even better. Show up however you can. Go to the visitation, funeral, or memorial service. (for more information on what to expect at these events, scroll to the bottom.)

Offer Practical Help: Grieving individuals might appreciate practical assistance. It could be something like picking up assignments from class. Giving them a ride somewhere. Bringing over food or a mocha. Small gestures can make a big difference.

Respect Their Grieving Process: Understand that everyone grieves differently. Your friend might not be ready to talk or may need space. Respect their pace and preferences. Grief can come in waves, often when you or your friend are not expecting it. 

Understanding Sympathy and Empathy: Sympathy is saying that you care about the other person. Empathy is when you are hurting with that person. Both can be helpful as you walk alongside your friend.

Remember Significant Dates: Birthdays, anniversaries, or the anniversary of the loved one’s passing can be especially difficult. Reach out during these times to offer support.

Follow Up: Grief doesn’t disappear after the funeral or memorial service. Continue checking in on your friend in the weeks and months that follow. Your ongoing support will mean a lot. Put a reminder on your phone to connect with them a few times in the next year. 

Remember, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to supporting someone in grief. Being present, empathetic, and patient are some of the most valuable things you can offer during this challenging time. And it’s okay not to have all the answers; sometimes, your presence speaks volumes.

Understanding what a Visitation (Wake), Funeral, Memorial Service, or Celebration of Life is all about:

Visitation: Often before a funeral or memorial service there may be something called “visitation: or a “wake”. This is a time to connect with the family, to share condolences and to be a support to them. When you go, one thing that often surprises people at the visitation is that you may see joy and laughter in the midst of deep sadness. People often are sharing stories and fond memories of the person who has died. These stories bring out a lot of different emotions. 

You may not get a lot of time to talk with the family, so get a card and write out what you want to share with that person. It will be a great comfort, as they often will open and read the cards after everyone has gone home. Also, many families will display photos of the life of their loved one. Take some time to look at the photos. It can give you something to talk about. Saying something like, “I was looking at the beautiful photos of your trip to the Grand Canyon. It looked like you had an amazing time.”

Funeral, Memorial Service, or Celebration of Life: The family may choose either a funeral or a memorial service. The biggest difference between these two is that the body is not present in a casket at a memorial service or Celebration of Life. However, an urn with the loved one’s ashes may be present at a memorial service. At a funeral, having the body displayed may feel strange, but it can be an important part of the healing process for many.

Most funerals or memorial services will have a time of prayer, scripture readings, songs, and a comforting message from a pastor. Many also have some time where one or more people get up and share some memories of the loved one. This is called a eulogy, which literally means “True words of praise.” 

Burial: In many cases, there will be a reception following the funeral. Again, this is a great time to support the family and to share stories and memories with others. Sometimes the family will invite everyone to join them at the cemetery for the burial or the internment. Other times it will be a private event for just the family. 

Getting to walk alongside a friend in their grief can be a little scary. But it is also a holy honor to be part of the healing process. 


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