Good Grief: Tips on encouraging someone walking through grief

*Welcome to those of you who have joined us after reading my Proverbs 31 devotion What to Say or Do (When You Don’t Know What to Say or Do!) I hope you will stay connected with me by subscribing to my blog or following me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook!

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“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (CSB)

Today we are having a conversation about grief and I am also giving away a gift bundle of my book and Bible study, Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World to one person who comments on this post.

Grief does not go away quickly. Often people carry the heaviness of grief for years, even decades. We can purpose to show them love and help to lighten their load. And not just one time. But many, many times, in ways both mundane and magical.

We recently experienced this in our own family. My son has a friend who hangs out at our house—and eats lots of our food! He lived mainly with his dad, but his paternal grandmother was also very involved in raising him. When he was in middle school, she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that soon took her life. Whenever he talks about his grandmother, there is still a twinge of sorrow in his voice.

One day as we were discussing his grandmother, this teenager started to talk about her cooking. I asked him what his favorite thing was that she used to make. “That’s easy,” he answered. “Double-meat lasagna and pineapple upside-down cake.” I listened to him describe how delicious these two dishes had been. And then I walked into the other room, and I wrote his answer down in the Notes app on my cell phone.

A few days before he was to move away to attend college, we had this young man and his father over for dinner. I bet you can guess what was on the menu that night. Yup. Double-meat lasagna and pineapple upside-down cake.

When I called everyone to the table and he saw what I had prepared, he choked up. He gave me a big hug and quickly sat down and devoured his dinner. Yes, he had eaten at our table many times before. But this night was magical. After we had eaten, I assured this young man that his grandmother would be so proud of who he had become. And since she wasn’t around anymore to cook his favorite meal for him as a sendoff to college, I decided I would step in and have the honor of doing so.

Use your ordinary life for God's extra-ordinary purpose. Karen Ehman in her newest book Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World

Now let me assure you that I didn’t carry out this quest without a little struggle. It came on a week where I was slammed. I was tempted to just order pizza and have ice cream for dessert, but I knew how much a home-cooked meal like his grandmother used to make would mean to this boy. And the pause and the preparation were good for my soul. They reminded me that relationships require work, that remembering isn’t always easy—and that sometimes sweat is involved in listening and loving.

As we go through life this week, may we be ever aware of those around us who are grieving—for a friend, loved one, marriage, job, or relationship. May we seek to weep with them, reaching down to help carry their load. When we do, we fulfill the law of Christ.

Whose load will you help carry?

I wanted to give you a few tips on what to do to encourage someone walking through grief and also tell you about a great book that is a helpful resource for those who themselves are dealing with a loss.

First, the resource.

I discovered a timely book just after my father passed away last year. A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament by Christina Fox is part Bible study, part practical guide for dealing with our emotions as we walk through grief. I highly recommend it!

Second, five tips to keep in mind as you interact with someone who is sick at heart:

G—Give them space. Don’t expect them to bounce right back after a few weeks and act like their old selves. The grief process takes lots of time and people will continue to miss a loved one until the day they die. Be consistent in reaching out to them, including them, and showing them love. But do not be offended if they don’t consistently act like their old selves. They need a little space and a lot of time.

R—Remember their loved one out loud. Don’t be afraid to speak of the one who has passed away or their loved one who is suffering from a disease. It usually makes it worse when no one will mention the name of the deceased. When you feel it is appropriate, talk about their loved one, mentioning a happy memory or funny story or one of their character qualities. Keep their memory alive in your conversations. A friend who lost his son in the Iraq war once told me, “Don’t be afraid to speak his name. Speaking his name doesn’t remind me that my son died. I know he died. Speaking his name reminds me that you remember that he lived.”

I—Invite them along. Even though the grieving need space, they still need to know that you want to include them in your activities. Make it a point to invite them out to lunch or to take in a movie or show. Ask them to take in a sporting event or a concert. Don’t be offended if they aren’t up to going. Just keep inviting them so they know you care.

E—Etch important dates on your calendar. Holidays and other special dates are especially hard the first few years—Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s or Father’s Day. Make plans to reach out to the grieving on these difficult occasions. Did your friend lose their son in his senior year of high school? Make sure to send a thoughtful card during graduation time in the spring letting them know you are praying for them. Did your friend lose her husband to a heart attack? Find out what their anniversary was and offer to take your friend out for coffee or lunch. One of my favorite ideas was when my young boys took flowers to a sweet older widow on what would have been her wedding anniversary. We told her that since Grandpa Don was busy in heaven, he had us deliver the love that day.

F—Frame a favorite picture. Print a photo of the person and their loved one who is now gone. It is a simple gift but one that will be appreciated. When my sister-in-law passed away, my friend Mandy purchased a small Christmas ornament that framed a picture of my sister-in-law. Each Christmas when we hang it on the tree, I fondly remember not only my relative but my thoughtful friend.

Listen Love Repeat giveaway at karenehman.com

Giveaway now closed

Congrats bsanderson689, you won! Please check your email for details.

Ok…time for the conversation and the giveaway! One of you who comments will win a copy of my Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World book along with the Bible study teaching DVD and Bible study workbook. U.S. and Canada addresses only please. Winner will be announced Monday, March 16 and notified by email. If we do not receive a response within three days, another winner will be drawn.

To be entered, simply answer this question:

What was the most thoughtful or practical gesture someone took when you were grieving or which of the ideas in this post would you like to try so you can encourage someone in your life who is going through some sort of loss?

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86 Comments

  1. When my dad was dying (when we removed him from life support, it took him 16 days to pass…it was an absolutely horrific thing to endure), I was away from home, staying with my step mom, so I didn’t have my husband or children near to lean on. I had a friend who simply texted me prayers and encouragement every morning. It was such a simple thing to do, but it had a profound effect on me and I’ve never forgotten her loving care. It helped me through one of the worst times in my life.

  2. Our family just lost a wonderful man, my brother – in – law Tom. I love all the ideas here but I think my favorite is sending a framed photo of Tom (we have one of him dancing at our daughter’s wedding?)
    I will be saving your acronym as a reminder for me as I seek to be there in more helpful ways for our grieving world.

  3. I would want to go the homecoming service of my friend’s loved one. When my mother died around 2009 a very special friend who I hadn’t seen in along time or really kept up with that much came to my mother’s grave side services. It meant the world to me. We were not living in my hometown where my mother was,I sent out an e-mail to few friends of my lost who still lived there and she surprised me by coming and another one who I did keep up with and had seen came. The homecoming services are very special and having family and friends there mean a lot. To me the services help give a type of closure – the grieving process is just really beginning ,but it helps me in realizing my loved one is in heaven and not here.

  4. For our family, it was such a blessing when people brought meals and shared fond memories! I love to reach out and try to give some sort of little gift when others have had a loved one pass, just to let them know they’re being thought of.

  5. My grandmother died on my birthday. As a new nurse, six months earlier I had promised to be with her when she was near death. Not wanting to worry me, my mother told me Grammie was in the hospital, but not how bad she was. She was waiting until the weekend, because she knew I was driving five hours then to be with her. In August Grammie asked if I would visit for my birthday because she figured it would be the last time we were together on that day. She died the day I left to go visit. It was only a few days before Christmas. My family was invited to my sister in laws parents for Christmas Eve. Her father, prior to the blessing gave a great tribute to my grandmother and said how much she was missed. By doing this it cleared the air…that the Christmas celebration could go on as she would have wanted it to.

  6. I have a friend who stood by me the 4 years my husband battled
    Brain cancer. She helped me with meals, ride for my children, a home for them to stay when we had overnights at the hospital. She left me notes, gifts and fresh flowers on my doorstep just to bring glimpses of joy. My husband passed away 5 years ago, and she is still offering glimpses of joy. She does not forget a holiday or my husbands birthday or our anniversary. I have learned from her and shown that grace as people I knew who were suffering. Now my friend is going through a rough time with her family. Our relationship is so strong and I am grateful to be able to support her.

  7. When my mom passed away over five years ago, I flew back to attend the services. While at the service, I met a remarkable lady who told me how much my mom meant to her. She told me how they enjoyed time at monthly luncheons and gave me a picture of one get together. I’m glad she found a friend who took care of her needs as she did for her friend. Since I lived over a thousand miles away, I had no idea of this friendship. It gave me encouragement that she had time to enjoy others. It comforted my heart and felt her personal comments brought peace and hope in my heart.

  8. My step-mother died this morning. I am an only child. My step-mom had two girls and a son. I am not sure how many grandchildren. There has been a big issues between her children and my dad and step mother. He is hurting that two of her children has not even called him. The one daughter caused issues while she was in Hospice with myself and my dad. Please pray for this situation. I just want to protect my dad who is 81 years old. I am asking the Lord to help me forgive.

  9. When I was grieving the loss of my father and my brother,, a friend listened to me and prayed for me.

  10. When my dad was dying,I returned from South America where I was a missionary. He died while I was traveling, but God put me on several flights and on the last flight to NC, the man beside me accepted Christ.
    Going from the airport to the funeral home, I was told that dad had been very different the last three weeks. He’d asked everyone forgiveness and told them he loved them. The next morning my mom’s pastor came to the house and said that my dad had accepted Christ with him three weeks before!
    As I was returning to South America, the flight agent upon hearing that my dad had died, gave me first class seating to Houston, my first flight back. I gave him one of my dad’s tie tacks.
    God is so very good!

  11. I received a card from a friend on Father’s Day the year my father passed away. It was unique to me and very much appreciated.

  12. A friend of mine would stop by on her way to work on random days & leave small treats – tea, homemade goodies, lotion, kitchen towel, plant or flowers.

  13. A friend once told me not to worry about not being able to be a her Mother-in-laws wake and funeral because I was keeping my 3 younger grandchildren. She said life happens and my grandchildren were of the most importance that day, but I still felt bad! I told her they were in my thoughts and prayers and I felt I needed to send a card. Thoughts and prayers are the best things we CAN send but cards are easy too so that we can let friends and loved ones know they are thought about from our hearts!

  14. I liked all of the ideas; however, the two I feel I will use more is : Sending cards and/or making contact on special days that make them remember the loved one a little more deeply. Second, print a photo of the loved one who has passed, buy a nice frame, and give a framed print to the precious one who is grieving.

  15. My dad left this earth and went to heaven 2 months ago. When college classes resumed for my daughter, one of her professors asked how her break went. My daughter told her about the passing of her Grandpa. The professor just sat down and asked my daughter to tell her about him. My daughter was so touched by that gesture and it was so healing for her. I’ve thought a lot about that and want to be that person to those in my life that experience loss .

    1. You won Karen’s giveaway! Please check your email for details. And thank you for sharing, we could all learn a lesson from your daughter’s professor. Praying for your family!
      Kim Stewart
      Karen Ehman Ministry Team

  16. My best friend lost her dad only two days ago; tragically, suddenly. This whole devotion is an answer to prayer. I pleaded with God this morning to give me words to help comfort and assurance that my spiradic texts sent and moments of overwhelming grief causing me to cry out to Him for her sake are meaningful. I can see God right here in the middle of this horrible time. I will continue to reach out, weeping with her, and keeping his memory alive through speaking his name.

  17. When my grandmother (who was my favorite person in the world) passed away, a friend brought over a breakfast casserole. I’n not sure why, but that’s never on the forefront of my mind when someone passes – breakfast. I always think paper products or casseroles for some reason. As simple as it sounds with the fact that my house was the gathering place for out of town family, breakfast allowed not only to visit for a bit the morning of the service, but gave me peace of mind that I didn’t have to worry about feeding people first thing in the morning. I’ve never forgotten since then how important having something good and wholesome for breakfast during a time like that can be. For heath reasons and friend reasons, that idea will remain a keeper for me.

  18. One of the kindess and thoughtful gestures my husband and I experience was when we lost our baby daughter just a few weeks before her birth, one of my dear friends came over one afternoon and took our older two children out to play and spend the night allowing us to rest and grieve. I will never forget that deep genuine love shown toward us all.

  19. Friends calling me to see how I am doing. Hugs and prayers and note of encouragement. Friends letting me know they are praying and that it takes time to grieve, sharing stories of my loved ones. My parents and mother-in-law have gone home to be with Jesus in the past 18 months.

  20. When my mom died, a friend sent an Angel of Remembrance figurine that remains special to me almost three and a half years later. I am a volunteer facilitator for a grief recovery program at my church and we encourage our participants to write a letter to friends, family members, and/or co-workers letting them know what they need during their grief journey. All of the ideas in your post are wonderful ways to bless someone who is grieving the death of a loved one. I think one of the best suggestions is: “Be consistent in reaching out to them, including them, and showing them love.”

  21. After my Mother’s passing in November 2002, a very dear friend remembered to reach out to me on special dates (major holidays, Mom’s birthday, my first birthday without my Mom) either by calling on the phone (she did not live in my area at the time) or sending a card or flowers. It was extremely uplifting and encouraging to my heart!

  22. Remember the loved one out loud- I have been afraid to do this with Katlynn. Whenever she brings her mom up, of course I talk with her and remember her, but it’s been a while since that has happened. I need to let her know that I miss her too, that I’m grieving her loss with her and that her mom is not forgotten, especially as it is coming up on the anniversary of her death on March 24th. I’m struggling with how to walk that out with her as it is also my husband’s birthday.

  23. When my mother died in February of 1982, it was a difficult year. A couple invited me to lunch the week before mother’s day that year. The fact that they knew it would be hard for me, and wanted to spend time with me, meant so much They reminded me that my mother was spending the holiday with her mother in heaven this year. Their kindness helped me be more aware of others who grieve.

  24. When my nephew died of muscular dystrophy several years ago, family members planted a tree just outside his bedroom window to remember his sweet and all-too-short life. It’s been such a great and enjoyable reminder to all of us as we are arch that tree grow!

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