Apr 2, 2008
How To Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 5
Talking with a grieving friend is like entering a minefield. You’re treading very carefully, weighing each word-step, wondering if this is going to set something off.
I’ve had questions from people about what specific things to say or not say, and I’m afraid I can’t speak definitively about how all grieving women want to be talked to. To be honest, I can’t even speak definitively about myself. It varies for me from day to day and sometimes moment by moment.
I remember being with family and friends on Felicity’s 2-month birthday. I was feeling like I wanted to talk about her all day, but no one asked. In those moments, the grieving person is really trapped.
If I bring this up, and steer the conversation away from politics or the weather, am I going to be seen as trying to dominate, or make the conversation all about me, or seen as trying to bring everyone in the group down?
If I bring this up, am I going to make someone else uncomfortable?
If I bring this up, the conversation changes drastically. Is that okay with everyone? Is that socially acceptable in this group right now?
I want to put this forward as a possible rule of thumb based on my own experience:
- More often than not, if you’re close friends with her and are having a one-on-one conversation or if it’s a relaxed group situation and your friend feels pretty safe with the people around, it’s okay to tell her that you’ve been remembering her baby or have been praying for her.
- When she’s in the lobby after church and she’s trying to manage her other children or corral them from the nursery or running through the aisles at the grocery store, it’s probably not the time to bring it up.
The grieving woman lives in a constant paradox—I am no longer the woman I used to be, and therefore, I am not “normal,” but also, I’m just another woman/wife/mother trying to live my life like everyone else.
In your conversations, it can be really refreshing if you help her feel normal. And other times it’s best if you make sure she knows that you are thinking of her special circumstances and have by no means forgotten her or her child.
It doesn’t always have to be a conversation. You can write a card. It can be 2 lines long! It can say something like, “I thought of you and your baby today. You are a good mom to your children.” Don’t worry about it having to be deep or ultra-spiritual. Chances are your friend will feel blessed knowing she’s not alone in remembering her baby (who she thinks of all the time).
I think a lot of people are afraid to bring up their friend’s loss, because they think they’ll set her off or make her cry. Something I’ve said jokingly, but mean with all sincerity is, “My tears are just below the surface. If you make me cry right now, it’s no major accomplishment.”
The grieving woman is well-acquainted with tears. They’re not as scary for her as they may be for you. So if you feel like you might “cause” her to cry, it’s not so much about whether she’s okay with it, but whether you can handle it. Is it okay with you if she cries?
Conversation with your altered, grieving friend can be really hard to navigate. She’s probably feeling out this new navigation thing, too. She’s not normal, but she is normal. If you would’ve gone up and talked to her after a service before her baby died, go up and talk to her after a service now, too.
She may be a minefield, but she probably won’t explode. And even if she does, it’s worth it, right?
(Read other posts in this series.)