My husband and I recently found ourselves in the midst of a shattering family loss. In a matter of minutes, our entire world changed. We were thankfully surrounded by an extremely supportive community.
It’s been a few weeks since then. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still healing. We’re still navigating our way through the information, the emotions, and even what hope looks like for our future. But now that I’m a few weeks out, I’ve gained some realizations.
I had fortunately never been through such a heartbreaking loss.
And because I hadn’t, I never knew how to support someone. Loss is difficult. As a friend, you might want to reach out but you aren’t sure what to say. As the person in the loss you don’t necessarily know how to respond when people do reach out. Trials have the potential to separate and isolate. But they don’t have to. As someone who is just getting out of the thick of a trial, this is what was most helpful for me.
Listen and be supportive.
In any tough time, the trial is like an iceberg. The person going through it has more going on beneath the surface than they may be showing. They may not be able to share every detail with you because it is too painful.
Listen to what they will share. If something traumatic has happened, try to be supportive without sharing your opinions. It is very likely that the person suffering is trying to process their own feelings. They may not have the capacity in that particular moment to be empathetic to your feelings about their situation.
This doesn’t mean you can’t respond to them. I personally found it helpful when others shared their own experiences of overcoming difficult situations rather than trying to give advice about mine, but everyone is different. This is another reason you should really listen to what the person is saying and navigate the conversation based on their needs.
Another thing that was helpful for me was people validating my emotions. At times it was hard to hear, “you’re handling this so well,” or “you are so strong.” In the moment I didn’t feel like I was handling anything, let alone being strong. But those comments crept into my heart and helped repair it.
Ask what they need. Then DO what you think they need.
Kevin and I had an overwhelming number of people saying, “Let me know what you need.” And I mean OVERWHELMING. In the moment, whenever people asked me what I needed my mind would think, “I need to not be going through this right now.”
I knew that people were trying to be loving and helpful, but I didn’t have the energy to think about how they could help. When trials come that are beyond your control, no one can fix the situation. I found myself stressed out that I couldn’t help other people feel better by telling them how they could help.
What did help? Some people just took it upon themselves to do what they thought I would need. The flowers they sent became a daily reminder that other people were thinking of me. Cards reminded me that I was being lifted up in prayer. Friends sent small gifts in the mail to help take my mind somewhere else. At a time where I wasn’t reaching out to anyone, I had people reaching out to me making dates to help get me out of the house.
Another thing that would be helpful is sending meals or picking up groceries. Don’t ask for a list, just go pick up things you think they would like and are easy to make. It’s hard to do even the easiest things when you’re suffering a loss.
Pray. Let your loved one know you are praying.
I’m still getting messages saying, “I’m praying for you.” These are some of the best messages. Almost every time I was wallowing in sadness and feeling lonely, I would get one of these messages.
Each message reminds me that I am loved, that people are praying for me, and that they are rooting for my healing. I truly believe each one of those messages and each one of those prayers acts as stitches that are putting my heart back together.
Another great thing is that those types of messages are open ended. When I felt like having a conversation, I would. If I didn’t I would just say thank you or send a heart back.
Most of all I believe in the power of prayer. I don’t think I would feel the amount of peace I feel now if I didn’t have a community of people praying for me. I still have a long way to go, but I know that people are STILL praying. Thinking about those prayers and praying myself gives me a wave of comfort and a renewed sense of faith.