When someone close to you loses a spouse or a child there are steps you can take that will bring comfort to them. Seeing them suffer this loss is heartbreaking to watch. You want so much to relieve their pain and suffering. It's important to know that they will have to go through the process and nothing you do can prevent that. In fact, you must not try to prevent it because it is a crucial part of their journey to healing. What you can do is be there for them and walk with them through their difficult journey.
Some deaths come suddenly while others are preceded by illness that gradually takes the life of the loved one. Both are difficult but require similar compassionate responses. Here are six actions you can take to help your loved one along her painful journey.
1. Stay with her or him for a time
A friend of ours suddenly lost her husband. He was too young to die, but his heart just stopped, and he was gone. The shock was overwhelming to her and her four children, all young adults. Her sister decided the best thing she could do was stay with her for a while. She even slept in the bed beside her for several days. Our friend said it was so comforting to have her sister right there. She had dreaded being alone in her bed. Some may not want you in their bed, but just being in the house can bring comfort. It's being alone that is difficult. Even when you have children nearby, having another loved one, such as a sister, brother, or parent there for a short time can be very comforting to the whole family.
2. Realize that some who are grieving want to be alone
When our own daughter lost her husband she wanted us with her, but after a few weeks she didn't seem interested in being with us or anyone. It helped to remember author Martha Hickmans' advice to grieving widows. Speaking of their loved ones, she said: "And they need us - to continue to love them, to let them know we have not cut them off as we work our way through our sorrow, to be attentive, as we are able, to the ongoing needs in their lives... And it isn't automatic that these bonds of love and friendship will be honored. Especially when we are feeling sad, it may seem easier to isolate ourselves." Staying in touch during this period of mourning is vital. Even if they don't know it, they need us. And we need them. We can let them know this, too. It helps to be needed.
3. Recognize that the grieving one will be in a state of confusion
Everything seems to be in a blur. Suddenly they live in what seems like an unreal world. It takes time for the grieving one to think clearly again. Be patient during this time and reassure him that this is normal. Encourage him not to make any major decisions during this time. Yet, help him make decisions that can't wait. Just talking with you about what needs to be done can be very helpful. Even sitting with him and helping him as he pays his bills can be a huge relief to him.
4. Encourage her to talk about her departed one
Sitting down with her with a photo album and reminiscing can be comforting. Remembering the good times is important. Memories are a healing balm. Have fun as she and you recall the good times they have had. Often this can spark even a little laughter, which is also very healing. Let her do most of the talking. Your comments are meant only to enhance what she is remembering and cherishing.
5. Be understanding
The best thing you can do to help your loved one through her sorrow is to be constant in giving your love and understanding. Holding her in your arms as she cries will be comforting to her. We suggest you pray for her and with her. Prayer can be deeply comforting when shared by those who are trying their best to be understanding. Sharing a Bible verse can also be helpful. One of our favorites is John 11:25 "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:" Having faith that she can be with her loved one again will mean the world to her. You can help build that faith.
6. Reassure him that he will be OK
That's not to be done lightly nor right at the beginning of the grieving process. As he emerges from the shadows of sorrow and is feeling more light and hope, you can reaffirm that he will be OK. Connect him with others who have gone through this process and are witnesses that things will work out after all. It just takes time and lots of love.
It's painful to see your loved ones suffer, but it can also create a greater bond between you. A recent text from our grieving daughter ended with, "Thank you for all your help! I love, love my parents!" The greatest gift you can give your loved one is for her to know that your love and caring will always be there. With that in place, she will make it through his time of grieving, and so will you.