“Comforting a Friend in Loss,” Sept. 24, 2018

(DEAR READERS: I’m taking off this week to recover from my son’s wedding. The following “often-requested” column is from 2006.)

What do you say to someone who’s just lost the love of their life? How do you offer hope when all they see is despair?

I often hear from readers who are grieving the loss of a loved one. They write to me about their loss, just as I’ve often written about mine in this column, in the years since I lost my first husband to cancer. To read their stories and share in their grief is an honor and a gift. I’ve received countless such letters over the years and have tried to answer as best I can. But some things don’t get easier with practice.

Loss hurts, no matter how many times we suffer it. And finding the right words to offer comfort is never easy. I’d rather send a casserole than write a note, though I’m not great at casseroles either.

Life has taught me this: When we bear each other’s burdens, and use our grief to help others deal with theirs, it miraculously turns loss into gain.

So we try. Recently, a woman who’d lost her husband of 34 years wrote to ask: “How did you grieve for your husband? What helped you get through it?” Here, in part, is the reply.

Dear “Sarah”: I am sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how you must feel. Every loss is similar in some ways, but different in others. It’s as unique as the one who suffers it.

I can’t tell you what to do or how to heal. You’ll decide that for yourself. You’re the only one who can. But since you asked, I will tell you a few things that helped me, and I hope somehow they might help you, too.

First, let me say this: You are stronger than you know. You have all the strength you need. It’s in your soul, in your family, in your friends, in your faith. It’s like the air around you; you aren’t aware of it until you need it. Just remember to “breathe.”

Second, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” This is your season to grieve. Allow yourself to be there. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like laughing, laugh. If you feel like screaming, put your face in a pillow (so the neighbors won’t call 911) and scream away. Do what feels right to you.

My sister hates winter. She’d rather lie on a beach in a bikini than bundle up in a parka in the snow. But in a blizzard, she doesn’t tell herself she shouldn’t feel cold. It’s natural to feel sad in grief, just as it is to feel cold in snow. But it helps to bundle up and pray for spring.

How long will you have to wait for the “spring thaw”? Grief is like love; you can’t hurry it. It takes as long as it takes. Listen to your heart and trust it to lead you. It’s a good heart. It’s been broken, but it will mend.

Of all the advice I heard after my husband died, two things in particular made sense to me. The first was from a reader who told me to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom to make it look different, like my own. I did that, and it helped. (Note: Moving furniture is like prayer; good for the soul but hard on the knees. Do not move a king-sized bed without help.)

The second advice came from a friend, who wrote: “The challenge for you now, having lost your loved one, is to live a life that is honoring to his memory, while at the same time that life moves forward, so that only one person has died and not two.”

It’s a challenge — one of the toughest you’ll ever face — to move forward with your life when you still long for the life you had. The reality, of course, is that you can’t go back. You can either stay where you are in a season of grief or step out in faith to honor your loved one’s memory and choose to be alive.

I made that choice once, and each day since. You will make it, too, when you’re ready. Here’s wishing you a “good grief” filled with grace and peace and joy.

 

Comments

  1. This is so timely because my brother in law just lost his lady friend of 30 years. It was sudden and i don’t think the reality of the lose has set in. So thank you for putting it on on the internet.

  2. Becky says:

    Thanks for sharing this special column again. I first read it a few months after my dear husband died, and it really resonated with me. I have kept it and often shared a copy when someone went through a similar loss – of course directing them to your column. Please keep writing for us. You have a rare talent to reach others’ hearts.

  3. Stephanie Heflin says:

    I am so glad that you chose to share this wonderful column again! I had never read it and it is a keeper. I clipped it out to share with others and for myself to re-read when I am grieving. We all need to honor the grieving process and accept it as a part of life. Thank you Sharon!

  4. Linda Hill says:

    That was very well-said and so true. I found that everything in my life had changed after my husband’s death; even the the color of my nail polish ! He loved the dark pinks and reds, but I preferred lighter colors. The first manicure after he died, I cried all the way home. There was no one to show my painted nails to!
    The other thing that I found was that I needed to forgive myself for not being able to do everything that I used to do. Grief is a full-time job. The first year is very hard because every day is a challenge. The second year is the reality year and difficult in a different way.
    Two years into my grief, I can say that I am learning to live with grief and move forward. This journey is not for sissies.
    I look forward to seeing you this Thursday at Centennary Methodist Church!

  5. Diana Singleton says:

    Wow Sharon! What a timely article. Thank you. So hard to find the right words to say. I have been struggling trying to figure out what to say to my friend.

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