No one knows what to say when their friend faces grief. The magnitude of the question can be seen in a simple web search. More than thirty million sites have already attempted to answer the question. Fact is, you don’t really need me to repeat those simple statements.
I typically offer prayers unless the person has a specific need I know about. One time I offered to go grocery shopping.
One of my favorite diagrams for handling grief and trauma is the Ring Theory or the Grief Circle. In the center circle (the red portion) you’ll see the person directly affected by the tragedy. This person should never hear any negativity (aka dumping). Comfort should be the only thing coming in to that portion of the circle (represented by the arrow pointing in). As the rings in the circle progress, the next ring may hear negativity and dumping from the inner circle or from the ring closer to the inner circle, but only comfort should come from the rings that progress out.
To be truly effective, we must recognize our place in the circle and not feel bad if it’s further out that we’d like. The number one rule for assisting in grief is remembering, it’s not about us.
The Grief Circle is a tremendous tool in helping us understand how to deal with grief. If you’re interested, you can do a search. Many websites have more information on this tool.
One More Approach to Grief
I’d like to present a more novel, yet ancient, method of assisting in grief. We find the most descriptive example in the Bible. Job 2:11-13 tell us this:
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
While it’s quite unconventional today, I think Job’s friends demonstrate the most appropriate way to help our friends grieve, especially if we’re in the orange or yellow portions of the grief circle.
First, they weep with Job. In ancient times that included tearing their robes. Today that might mean showing up with a box of tissues and tea bags or wearing your lounge pants and no make up.
Next, they sat with Job. Too often we underestimate the power of just being there. We stay away because we’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing forgetting that our presence in the room might be enough.
Finally, they didn’t say a word. I know, that’s difficult. I’m a talker. I love to craft words. After all, I write songs and books. There must be some word I can find to bring comfort. But Job’s friends waited until Job spoke. They took their cue from him. (Granted, if you read the rest of the book, you’ll discover they needed a little advice from the Grief Circle.) Our friend may want to tell stories or yell at their loved one because he left this world too soon. They may need us to laugh with them or cry, but often they won’t need our words.
So What Are the Best Words?
The honest truth is there are no perfect words when someone faces horrible news. No matter the loss or impending loss, remember to keep your friend’s wishes in mind. Listen. If they say they want to be alone, consider mowing their lawn while they sit by themselves. When there’s a break in the conversation, allow the silence to hang for a few minutes. Your friend may find more words and your quick response will stifle them. And take a page out of Job’s friend book: the right words are highly overrated.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
I truly appreciate your visit.
While you’re here, check out my devotions for New Christians:
You’ll find them here.