This blog has been on my heart for a long time, but I have hesitated to write it because it’s a hard thing to talk about. Though I had experienced loss before, losing Joel made me face true grief in a new and bigger way. We truly could not have made it through that time without our friends, family, and the community that lifted us up as we grieved, both then and now.
One of the biggest blessings to me was that everyone treated Joel like he was our son – because in our hearts he truly is. I was afraid that others would not understand our grief because we never actually got to take him home, and yet the opposite was true. Each person who spoke to us did so with grace, gentleness, and compassion, knowing that we had indeed lost a son.
What I realized in my grief is that I have often lacked kindness and empathy for those we know who have gone through a hard loss. Losing someone in a traumatic way is something you cannot understand until you have walked through it. In the past I have been so paralyzed by the fear or saying or doing the wrong thing that I have done nothing at all. So while each person is different and needs different things, here are some of the best ways to walk alongside someone as they grieve a loss.
1) Say something. Do not let fear of saying the wrong thing keep you from saying something. Nobody could fix what had happened to us with a few words, but we didn’t expect that from anyone. Even the simplest of things – a text letting us know we were prayed for, a hug, or a sympathy card – meant the world to us and often came when we needed it most.
2) Do something. So many people asked if they could do anything for us. We appreciated this more than we can say. In all honest, though, it is extremly hard to ask for anything. The people who blew us away the most simply did without asking. The morning after we lost Joel I woke up to a text saying that dinner was on our front step. Flowers came in the mail from people as soon as they found out. My mom left around 3am to drive four hours so she could be with us. My brother and his wife, with two kids in tow, drove 6 hours round trip in a day to visit.
The list goes on forever, but the point is that I never would have asked anyone for a meal, flowers, or a visit. Each one of these people simply did without being asked, which touched us both beyond words.
3) Don’t try to make it better. As human beings we naturally want to fix problems. We want to make everything happy and better. But some problems cannot be fixed, and losing a loved one is the perfect example. The best response to a loss is to acknowledge the hurt and let your friend feel. The worst thing to say is “well, at least...” or “this just means something better is coming!” or something similar. While it is not healthy to dwell in grief, it is healthy to deal with grief in a real way.
I cannot express how thankful I am for all those around us who said something, did something, or simply let us know that it was ok to grieve. One of the thin silver linings on the dark cloud of what happened is that we now know how to walk alongside those who have experienced loss – and I pray that after reading this you will have learned the same.