Loving Your Grieving Friends: Don’t DO, When You Want to DO
Good news. God made me a doer. Bad news. God made me a doer.
This trait is a strength when there is a task to be done. I can push through, gather a team, push it up a corporate ladder, gather a crowd – etc.
This trait is a weakness when the situation is not mine to fix. I feel out of control and I have a hard time letting God be God.
When my friends are grieving, the doer in me wants to do it away.
When my friends are grieving, the doer it me wants to make it better.
When my friends are grieving, the doer in me can often make it worse.
I first learned about my inexperience with deep grief through the passing of my friend Amber’s amazing dad. Russ Dusak was a wonderful dad and proud father of three great kids. He served our country in the US Marine Corps among many of his accomplishments.
Although I wasn’t physically close to Amber (at the time Texas and Florida) – we are in a tight group of friends – so emotionally we are close. Walking through this time with her, I learned I was not skilled or trained to do this. And I goofed a bunch.
Then, I have had the great privilege of gaining a new friend this past year in Bridgett Braland. She lost her husband, Brad, tragically two years ago this month. Her kids are my kids friends and they miss their amazing daddy so bad. Brad was a light for Jesus, a fantastic musician, a MADLY-in-love husband and a proud father.
From afar, you would think Bridgett needed me. But the truth is, I needed her too. God knew we were a match for each other. She has taught me so much about friendship, love, God, pain, grieving, marriage and much more.
Today, I just want to scratch the surface in hopes that you’ll learn from my mistakes. I have fumbled my way through loving my friends and TRUST ME when I say I haven’t figured this out. Ask them.
Few Things We Shouldn’t DO, When We Want do DO:
Don’t Try to Fix It.
The first lesson I learned through their friendship was … I wanted to take it away. The more I forced trying to fix and solve their problems – the more I got resistance. Leading with this approach isn’t helpful. The hard part about grief is that you cannot fix it. You can lend an ear, soften the blow, provide support, point them to Jesus – but take it away? Not possible. Both friends were kind enough to tell me this truth.
Don’t Try to Be God
In the moments of hard conversations, Bridgett would share some raw, heavy painful stuff. I would quickly start vomiting things I thought God would say or verses I had memorized. And I learned quickly to just zip it. Let God be God. Listen. Pause. Wait for Him to show up. Ask questions more than insert my opinion. He didn’t leave her when it happened – and He’s not leaving her now. (She told me this – amazing truth.)
It’s not up to me to be God. Trust that He’s working in the hardest moments and hardest conversations. Each moment doesn’t have to tidy up just right.
Don’t Try To Generalize
This process also helped me realize that there is no time table for grief. If you read about grief, there are often stages, but there really isn’t a formula. Amber shouldn’t be to Point B by this date. Or to Point C by this date. She’s on a journey. So is Bridgett. Generalizing their stories doesn’t make them feel better. Giving them a “one size fits all” grief tip feels cheap. Sometimes, the kids just need a giggle and that’s enough for that day.
Don’t Try to Pretend It Didn’t Happen
My friendship with Bridgett started over coffee. We were meeting about an event. And, I got a familiar nudge. I stopped the meeting about centerpieces and said something like this. Can’t quite remember.
“Hey Bridgett. I don’t ever know what to say or how. But I just want you to know I haven’t forgotten about Brad. How are you doing? Like really?”
Sometimes, your friends that are grieving may NOT want to talk about their story especially in the Target aisle, but sometimes they need someone to offer. We assume these people are covered in friendships and love. Some of our grieving friends need to be reminded that we haven’t forgotten and just because it’s awkward or hard – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I often ask widows to tell me about their wedding day or proposal or other moments. Let them talk about the person they miss. Because I do care. I love when Amber sends us photos of her dad on a random day and feels the freedom to tell us a funny story.
Don’t Wait for Credit or Approval
The doer in me can also get frozen with what to do – when there is a need. Sometimes, we are waiting for approval from the person or sadly credit for the idea. I have been guilty of this. If God nudges you to start a gift card campaign or Go Fund Me. Do it! If God nudges you to get thousands to pray for a child or family, go for it. If it is from Him – the “doing” is never bad.
Most of the people I know in grief have little time to filter through their emails and manage all the help. They do need a few willing people to step up and fill needs. I would suggest going to their very best friends. The ones closest to them will know if they need food, money, prayer or rides. And they are often better able to manage the details. Don’t wait if God nudges and don’t worry if they notice – do the right thing. My friend Katie knew Amber needed a bestie beside her to hold her up at the funeral and she just went. Forget the money and the logistics – get on that plane.
Friends – loving your grieving friends is messy and takes time and it’s awkward and really hard. You might not be the friend they need, but you just might. Lean into what God is calling you to do or not do. I guarantee it isn’t as hard as the loss they are facing. Show them Jesus and give them hope.
Friends Grieving: Take One More Step
You probably know someone right now that is in the depths of hard times. From divorce to cancer to a sick child…I have a resource for you. My sweet friend Rachel Wojo is one of the most authentic writers and mommas out there. We had lunch one time and I didn’t want to leave. Her love for other women and authenticity is so endearing.
She’s been through everything from a divorce – to losing her mom – to the terminal illness of her child – to blending two families. Her heart is for each of you – that are struggling to take one more step. That’s why her book offers just that. How to take One More Step. When some days, that is all Bridgett can do. And all Amber can do.
I know her personally and have read every word of this book. It’s her beautiful tale of struggle packed with God’s redemption and healing.
You can order it right here. It JUST came out yesterday.
For the Bridgetts and Ambers out there, we are for you. We are hurting with you and never hesitate to be honest with your friends. How we can love you better or different. We are learning right there with you. The doers want to take it away, but in the moments that we can’t – we will walk beside you. In the messy, heart-wrenching, time-consuming moments.
We are with you. Take ONE MORE STEP.
This is really good. I have been the grieving friend: through the sudden loss of my dad, and through the loss of five pregnancies. Honestly the best thing was when friends just hugged me, or brought me food, no strings attached. Bible verses and quotes are good and all, but honestly they can sting when the loss is really fresh. Hugs and food can say what words can’t. I can’t wait to read this book.
Yes – Angela. Great reminders. Much love to you!!!
So very good. Just being there is so very important, listening to stories, letting the person cry or tell stories, just a true hug are all so important. It doesn’t go away right away and some of it will never go away. I never know when I start to speak about a person if I am going to start crying, almost always I am good and then the tears start.
Someone told me that Kara Tippets book is called “Just Show Up” which is a great motto. xoxo
These stories hit home. I have many grieving people in my life at the moment and your reminders really help me remember how to discern my role. Thank you for this post. I just ordered the book. Thank you for suggesting.
such great reminders and encouragements!! so many of us are “doers” because we care so deeply and hate to see friends hurting. somehow we think we should be able to fix it, but we can’t. sometimes just “showing up” is the thing that helps most. my friend jill buteyn just published an awesome book that she co-authored with kara tippets (since deceased) that walks us through this type of thing with truth and dignity. the book is (aptly) titled, “just show up!”
oops! just saw your reference to ‘just show up’ — i’m kind of a flake sometimes 🙂