Monday, May 20, 2013

10 Ways to Comfort a Grieving Parent

Anxiety weighs down the human heart,
but a good word cheers it up.
Proverbs 12:25

Your friend or loved one has lost a baby in pregnancy, birth, or soon after birth. You want to help, but what’s the best way to do that? Consider some of the following suggestions:

Be There! Nothing says “I love you” more to your friend or family member than being there for them. Yet many people are uncomfortable around someone who’s grieving because they are at a loss for words. Then we end up avoiding our hurting friends instead of just doing something as simple as sitting with them in their silences.
In the initial phase of grief, conversation with the hurting person isn’t a necessity. They’re unable to think clearly because their mind is in shock. As I’ve mentioned in my blog, thinking just becomes too painful and energy sapping for a grieving person. It’s easier, and demands far less energy emotionally or physically, just to sit, since all of your energy is already being directed into simply coping.
People won’t remember the words you speak to them, but they will remember that you were there.

Be Quiet and Listen. If the grieving parent wants to talk, let them. Be quiet, don’t make judgmental statements; don’t give them suggestions, unless they ask for them. Again, as the Psalmist says, set a guard over your mouth and keep watch over the door of your lips!!

Meet A Need. Serve them. Don’t just offer to do something if they need it; do something for them. It’s highly likely that the grieving person will not know what they need until some thoughtful person does it for them.
And the things you do for them don’t have to be big things. In my previous blog I mentioned a list of items to consider, such as running errands, going grocery shopping for them, delivering a meal, watching their other children so they can rest, be alone, or get out. Again, ask God to show you what the person needs. They may be hesitant to ask for help, so it’s not out of line to gently nudge them to accept your offer. Sometimes you have to tell them—lovingly, gently— that you’re going to do it; just making a “yes” or “no” decision can be stressful or difficult for them.

Let the Grieving Parent Share Memories With You. Sharing memories may mean looking at pictures of the deceased baby, looking at baby foot or handprints, anything the parent kept as a memento of their child. If the thought of doing this makes you uneasy, pray for strength to look at these pictures. It will definitely give you a more intimate feeling of what the parent is suffering. Doing this may truly allow you to be able to weep with the person who weeps.

Give Comfort by Using the Word of God. But be careful with this one!! Do not lob Scripture at them too soon in order to “take away their pain,” lighten their misery, or nudge them to put their loss into some kind of “positive” perspective. While God’s word can uplift, edify and heal, it is God Himself who is the source of comfort and healing. His word is alive and active, mishandled, can cause more damage to an already damaged heart, particularly if it’s offered in a pious, preachy way.
Yes, everything will work out for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But remember that second, critical part of that verse: for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. There is a qualifying prerequisite there. And even if they are believers, it doesn’t “feel” good to them right now; and God, not you, will be the One working it out for good, in His timing!  
Be sensitive to whether the person seems receptive to the hearing of God’s word. Then you might want to incorporate a technique I’ve found helpful and successful: Write a note or letter of condolence that incorporates God’s words and truths without slinging, “Psalm whatever says this,” or “First Corinthians, thus and so says that….” If they’re Christians, they probably already know these verses and don’t need them reiterated to them. If not, then the grieving person is receiving help beyond measure without realizing it. This technique takes skill and much preparation (I’ve sat for hours composing a note on my computer, editing and re-editing it, before selecting my best stationery on which to copy it by hand.)
And don’t try to answer the “whys” and “what ifs” your friend or family member will incessantly ask and repeat. You really don’t know why; any speculation is only your opinion and nothing more. It’s best to keep your opinions unshared. Remember Job and his friends? If you’re unfamiliar with that story, read it to see how that turned out and what God had to say about all of their “wise” assessments. (They may want to voice their opinions and answers these questions themselves in order to make some “sense” of it. Just listen to them.)
It’s sometimes helpful to write a note, telling them that you’ll be calling them in a couple of days to check on them. Then call!!! This will undoubtedly give them something to look forward to, (they probably need something to look forward to), and let them know that they’re on your mind. If the day you do call just happens to be one of those days that they want to hide and disassociate from the world—and don’t answer the phone—don’t despair. Leave a message!
I remember one of the most important, precious phone calls I ever received was from a friend who I hadn’t had an opportunity to see for several weeks. She called and left a message on my answering machine saying, “I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, and I realized that you wouldn’t know that unless I called you and told you. So I’m calling to tell you that I’m thinking about you and love you.” What was my response? I sat and wept because I knew that someone was thinking about me, they hadn’t forgotten about me, and that they cared about me! Pretty simple voice message with a HUGE impact.

Recognize and Affirm the Person’s Feelings. Listen and comprehend the feelings and then validate them. Let them know that their feelings of anger, shame and depression are normal. Let them know that anger is okay. It’s not a sin to feel anger (just read the Psalms!). I’ve heard so many Christians say they “shouldn’t feel anger,” or that “it’s a sin to be angry.” Just where in Scripture does it say that? Paul tells us, “Be angry but do not sin in your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Big difference. And in my case it was normal and justifiable for Chris and me to be angry with the doctors who provided poor or improper care, or misdiagnosed my condition, contributing to the fatal outcome.
Church grief groups or counseling can be immensely helpful in this area because a person can often express their grief in this type of setting without the extra burden of feeling judged; they feel “safe” expressing their feelings to a “professional” or others who have walked, or who are walking in their shoes at the same time.

Include the Grieving Parents in Activities. You may think they don’t want to do anything while they’re grieving, and, perhaps they don’t; or their own practice includes formal mourning through withdrawal for several days or weeks, but give them the option to say no. So often the distraction of an activity will help them relax, momentarily take their mind off of their pain and gives them an opportunity to experience healing laughter and joy. In the early stages of grief, laughing may not be possible; they may be angry that the world around them seems to be buzzing on quite normally, oblivious to their loss and grief.  
Yet continue to ask, even if they say “no” often. At some point they might just say “yes.” Just don’t give up on them.
Encourage them to get outside to exercise. Being in the fresh air and sunshine does wonders for the body physically, and exercise releases endorphins (“happy hormones”) that reduce depression and elevate a person’s happy, content feelings. Exercise can also go a long way to help someone get sleep. Since insomnia is common in grieving persons, healing sleep is a plus!

Be Available! Again, this can’t be stressed enough. And don’t stop being available right after the funeral or memorial service is over. Your friend or loved one will likely need you for much longer—months or a year or more. You may wonder why they can’t seem to move on and stop talking about it. If you’d suffered the kind of loss they have, you’d understand why. Since you probably do not, don’t expect the grief process to take “x” amount of time.

Encourage a Grieving Parent to Withhold Making Major Decisions. They may feel pressured to make decisions too soon, and most grieving people are on emotionally shaky ground and don’t really have the energy to make good decisions at this time. If there are decisions that must be made, encourage the parents to seek out good counsel from friends, their church, their medical staff, or even lawyers, if necessary. Look for people with knowledge or expertise in whatever area is needed. Most decisions can wait. Hastily made, poor decisions may later add to their burden and grief.

Most importantly, be present, be a friend. And don’t be offended or put off by what the grieving parent says to you. It’s likely that they aren’t thinking straight and may not be able to function normally for some time. Cut them some slack, and love them. This is all
about them, not you. J


NEXT WEEK: Just exactly what does grief look like?

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



(Reference: The Counsel of a Friend: 12 Ways to Put Your Caring Heart into Action, by Linda Elliot; 1993.)