How to Help a Hurting Friend
It's time to abandon the idea that we need experience in order to offer comfort.
It was eight years ago, but I can still flash back to that room in my mind: All of us crammed in my parent’s living room, motionless bodies on couches, chairs and floors. The air was heavy with grief and shock. My Father’s body had recently been taken out of the basement where he had died the night before. And it was for that reason that we gathered in heartbroken love.
I could write a million words about the people who sat with me that day, how their simple, genuine love saved my life. Yet the one person that springs to mind in these memories is my sweet friend and college roommate, Becky.
We met at a pizza place and our lives were totally the same yet completely different. I was casual and went to class in hoodies, Doc Martens and funky hair. Becky was (and still is) the modern day Audrey Hepburn—always dressed in flared jeans and heels with carefully coiffed hair and makeup.
So it said something when she skipped her makeup and shower that day to rush to my side. We were so young, just 22, with no experience in losing a parent. I know she was completely unsure of what to do or say, yet I remember with tender thankfulness how firmly she stayed by my side. She even offered to come with me to the bathroom, in case I was afraid to be alone.
As the years passed, she was my maid of honor and threw a thoughtful shower and crazy-fun bachelorette party. She grabbed my hand before my uncle walked me down the aisle, understanding how deeply I longed for my Dad.
She bought a last-minute plane ticket when our firstborn, Noelle, arrived, because she couldn’t bear to miss out on those fresh new baby days—she had to hold her new niece.
At my Mother’s funeral a few years later, she and her husband, Adam, stayed with my husband, Kel, and I for the entire visitation. She was by my side through all the confused, dark details. She didn’t flinch or waiver. She didn’t let things get awkward. She had no credentials that gave her permission to speak into my life other than the simple fact that she was my best friend and belonged by my side in the storm.
So often when we don’t know what to say we make one of two mistakes:
We either say something trite and painful as we attempt to put an easy bow on our friend’s grief, or we say nothing at all and keep our distance, feeling ill equipped to speak from our lack of knowledge and understanding.
Surprisingly, saying nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing. The last thing a wounded friend needs is to wonder if their pain is too awkward for your friendship. Saying nothing may cause them to question if your friendship was shallow and only available when life was easy.
Don’t buy into the lie that you need some sort of credentials to “go there” with the heartbroken and grieving people in your life. God knows and understands all pain, He has been there—He has been everywhere, and His papa heart is burdened when His children’s hearts break. Have faith that His spirit will equip you for every room He sends you into.
“A friend loves at all times” isn’t just a verse for grandmas to sweetly needlepoint on a pillows—it’s a real call to be lived out through late night phone calls, tear-stained napkins, hand delivered warm meals, thoughtful cards or however you feel called to love.
Hands and feet love will speak louder than your fear or lack of knowledge, here are a few tips:
- Don’t stay silent. Offer your support and don’t be afraid to use the phrase “I don’t understand, but I’m so sorry and I’m here.”
- Be specific with your support: Don’t just say “Can I do anything?” but offer a specific meal on a specific night, offer childcare, housework or lawn mowing. Think about what your practical needs would be if you found yourself in your friend’s shoes. We’re often too prideful to ask for help, but we can be persuaded with tempting and specific offers.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking things will be OK in a week. Be the one who is still checking in a month, six months and a year later. Realize that some hurts take years to heal and leave permanent scars. Your friendship will likely change as your friends heal, although I would wager that if you just “go there,” you will both come out of this stronger, more gracious and closer to God as well as to each other.