As my husband hung up the phone, the look on his face spoke volumes. I could tell something bad had happened. He told me that our next-door neighbors' son had just died of a massive heart attack. He was only 56.
We immediately went over. When our friends met us at the door, we hugged each other, cried together and, for a few moments, sat in silence. Then they began to tell us about their son's death. There was no way we could have said anything of significance during those fresh moments of grief. To our friends, just being there mattered most.
It's difficult to know what to say or do for people whose hearts are consumed with grief after losing a loved one. And unfortunately, as we age, we tend to encounter more and more loss friends and family members suffer through difficult times and we do our best to stand with them.
For my husband and me, we've found that there are some practical, but powerful, grief relievers that go beyond sending sympathy cards:
Be there. When you hear about the death and you don't know what to do or what to say, go. Being there will be remembered long after any words you could say.
Touch. When someone is grieving, a warm hug or shared tears provide care in a deeply personal way.
Pass on a blessing. After my mother's death, I saved the most meaningful cards I had received. Now, instead of buying new cards, I choose one of mine and include its message in a personal letter.
Offer a meal. A few days after the funeral, invite your friend for dinner. We often ask a widower to eat with us. He seldom finishes a meal without telling us how much he appreciates the time together.
Provide practical help. Offer to keep track of those who provide meals, flowers, etc. Purchase the thank-you cards and stamps, write down addresses and make yourself available for any additional needs.
Initiate conversation. Encourage your friends to talk about the good things they remember about their loved one. Tell them of your own memories. Don't be afraid to laugh and truly celebrate the one who has passed. Listen well. During any private encounter, practice the advice from James 1:19: "Be quick to listen, slow to speak."
Record the date of the death. On that date, a year later, mail a card letting your friend know that you are thinking of him. Ask if he'd like to spend some time together honoring his loved one.
Whatever you do, give your friends a safe place to grieve. If they know that whether they laugh or cry, you will be there, you'll have given the greatest gift of all.