I was getting dinner ready the other day when the phone rang. I snatched it up, saw the number and hit the talk button. "Hey," I said, as I stirred the pot on the stove.
My friend's voice sounded strange - a bit flat. "I'm sorry I haven't been around the past couple days, and I don't have time to go into all the details, but I had a miscarriage this week."
The breath whooshed out of me, and I stopped stirring the cream corn. My heart fell to my feet and broke in a million pieces for my friend. While she had had symptoms of pregnancy, she hadn't really know for sure she had been pregnant until the baby was already gone. The whole thing seemed surreal for her.
Over the past few months, my friend had been through a roller coaster of emotions - she and her husband would be flung high on hope and then crash down with disappointment. You can read about her journey here, but the short story was, they had struggled to the decision to adopt, and were about ready to do so when a woman stepped forward to offer to be their surrogate. Dazed with hope and surprise, they crashed down again when they found out insurance wouldn't cover much and there was no way they could afford it. Now a miscarriage.
Sometimes, life just stinks. :(
As I listened to some of the details, I kept saying, "I'm so sorry." It felt inadequate and rather pathetic in the face of my friend's pain and disappointment. I wanted to do what I used to do with my kids when they were little and hurt themselves - gather her up in my arms and tell it would be okay. But it wasn't okay and none of my words would make it so.
In fact, I was a little afraid I would say the wrong thing and make things worse. Have you ever been there? I know when my grandmother died, more than one well-meaning friend said something along the lines of, "She lived a long life," or "She's better off." Yes, I knew that, but just because she was elderly didn't mean I was going to miss her any less. I knew they meant well and just didn't know what to say, but part of me wished they would just not say anything at all.
As I prayed for my friend during the evening and into the next morning, I began to think about the things we should do and say (or not do and not say) when a friend or loved one is hurting. What is helpful? What is hurtful? The Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep. What does that look like when you are actually walking that path though? As I prayed, a few things came to me.
1. Listen. Seriously - just shut up and listen. Be a safe place for the person to vent their emotions, both good and bad. Be a safe place for that person to express what they are feeling - even if it IS this really stinks or I'm mad at God. As Christians, sometimes, we have this idea that we should feel no negative emotions, so we try to talk other people out of theirs. I am reading through the Gospels and have come to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was so distraught, He was sweating drops of blood. That's some very negative emotion going on. I figure, since Jesus can have negative emotions, it's probably okay for us to have them, too.
2. Encourage them. I think it is okay to gently help someone lift her chin to look up to Jesus rather than look down at her circumstances, but you have to tread lightly here. Empty platitudes or getting preachy isn't really helpful and can often backfire. A Scripture offered is fine, but try to avoid the temptation to beat the person over the head with the Bible. If you are unsure if it is the right thing, saying nothing is probably better. I often put Scripture in cards of encouragement that I send. This seems less "in your face," than spouting them whenever I see the person. Don't guilt them for not having enough faith or trusting God enough. The person probably "knows" the "right" response but their emotions haven't caught up with that knowledge. That's okay - it's called being human.
3. Don't tell someone how to feel. Maybe it is because we are so uncomfortable in the face of grief or other negative emotions, but it seems like when someone is really upset, the temptation is to tell them how to feel. "Don't be sad," or "Just forgive and let go of the anger," really don't help. Give the person space to feel her feelings. Emotions have to be gone through in order to find the healing on the other side.
4. Respect their grief process. Everyone is different and everyone experiences things differently. Some women get angry. Some women weep. Some clean like maniacs or run miles. Give your friend the freedom to grieve in her own way. Don't judge her if it is a very different way than yours. And don't put a time limit on it. While excessive grief for a very long time might mean the person needs a professional to help them through, grief is an unpredictable thing. While my grandmother has been gone for six years, there are still times when moments of grief sneak up on me and surprise me with their emotional punch.
5. Give practical help. If someone is going through a really traumatic time don't ask them what they need. They might not be coherent enough to tell you. Instead, offer a meal on a specific day and ask them if that works, or show up and take the kids out. While it might seem more sensitive to put the ball in her court, your friend is probably dazed and more than a bit confused. Clear thinking can be difficult in the midst of a really hard emotional time like a death, a diagnosis or a divorce. Look around and see what is needed and then offer specific things for specific times rather than the nebulous, "Just let me know if you need anything."
6. Honor anniversaries. In high school, my boyfriend's brother was killed in a car accident. It was truly a horrible time for him and his family. I remember at the beginning, people were very sympathetic, but as time went on, they went on with their lives because it wasn't their tragedy and it didn't affect their daily lives. I remember him saying rather bitterly that everyone had forgotten his brother. While it is natural for people to move on with their lives when a tragedy isn't theirs, showing empathy after that first few weeks has passed will be greatly appreciated. I am terrible with dates, so I have to write stuff like this in my calendar. Realize that major holidays, birthdays and the anniversary of the death or event will be difficult for the person. Send a card. Give them a call. Show them you remember too, and you care.
7. Pray for them. I know, sometimes this ends up being my last resort sort of thing, but it really should be my first. Prayer is powerful, and praying for your friend really does make a difference. Let the person know you are praying for them, too. And if you say you will pray for them - do it!
In the end, just letting the other person know you care and are available for them can be the best gift you can give a grieving or hurting person. You'll never find the exact right words to fix it. Sometimes, "I'm sorry" is all they want or need to hear.
What ways have you found to help hurting friends or family? I'd love to hear about them.
~ Blessings, Bronte