Do you ever struggle to know how best to help a grieving friend? In this article, young mom and widow, Danita Jenae, encourages us that the risk is always worth it and, using a friend’s love language as a helpful guide, shares practical and creative ways to love and support those in our lives in a season of grief.
Note: The principles behind the love languages referenced in this article are based on Gary Chapman’s best-selling books The 5 Love Languages and The 5 Love Languages of Children. To discover your primary love language, take the 5 Love Languages Quiz at 5lovelanguages.com.
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Her name was Amy. She was the first young widow with children that I ever met. When I heard the news, my heart broke for her. Initially, I felt flooded with questions on her behalf. How could this happen to her? Can she pay her bills? How will she raise her children? Will they ever be okay?
Then my questions shifted as I realized I now had some kind of responsibility in the matter. My husband had a huge heart for helping widows and supporting them in practical ways. He lived out the Scripture: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Suddenly, it felt like perhaps it was my turn to help a widow in her affliction.
What Could I do?
I didn’t know Amy very well, and she lived on the other side of the country. Would it overwhelm her if I reached out to her? I wondered. I’m sure she’s getting hundreds of calls and emails and has so much to prepare for the funeral—maybe it’s best I wait, I reasoned. And if I did reach out to her, what would I even say? What could I even offer?
The truth was I felt beyond helpless and paralyzed—on her behalf and mine. I wanted to support her but didn’t know how. At the same time I wanted to comfort her but didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I wanted to help her but didn’t want to overwhelm her.
So I did what I’m now learning most people do. I did nothing. Well, I did pray, but I never told her so. Ultimately, I didn’t actually act on anything. I didn’t email, text, or send her any support. Instead I just thought about her a lot, worried for her, and felt overwhelmed for her and her situation.
TOO CLOSE TO HOME
It was only four weeks after Amy lost her husband that I found myself opening the front door to three men in service dress uniforms: an Army Colonel and a Navy Captain with an Air Force chaplain by their side. They carried a folded flag, which they presented to me and my young children. The men told me the news no military spouse ever wants to hear. And then my world as I knew it crumbled to pieces.
In the weeks, months, and years that followed, I became very intimate with the questions I had once asked on behalf of Amy. I now know how much she desperately needed people to step in during that time. And I also knew how seldom it was that people actually did.
I am very thankful for the different ways people have thoughtfully stepped into my own season of grief over the years. A meal I don’t have to cook is always welcome, especially months out. Flowers are always gratefully received as well. But beyond those familiar responses that have meant so much to us, I wanted to share some additional creative and meaningful ways to love the person in your life who is struggling with sorrow, whether they live locally or long-distance. Alternatively, If you are the one who needs this support today, forward this blog post of ideas to your family and friends or share it on social media. Others might be wanting to reach out and help you but may not know how.
THE LOVE LANGUAGES OF SORROW
Some of us need to be embraced and held while we’re weeping. Alternatively some of us need space and to be alone. Some of us need both at different times. It can be hard to figure out how to help someone who is grieving. Their needs will change greatly as their grief hits them in different waves. It can also be difficult to know how to help because they may not even know what they need from you, let alone have the capacity to communicate their needs.
Almost everything about our personalities, needs, routines, and desires change when we are in a season of sorrow. Our love languages may even change too when we are grieving. However, finding out their love language preferences may be a good starting place to help your grieving friend. It may be as simple as asking what might mean the most to your friend right now.
Sometimes, we need a friend to just sit with us. We don’t need them to pretend to be a counselor or even a comforter, instead we need the ministry of their presence, to know we are not alone. Some people may need a good diversion of putt putt golf or a movie. They may not want to talk about the loss at all. Others may need a cup of tea and a listening ear. Just ask them what they need ahead of time (to talk about it or not), and then honor that request.
You can also bless them by giving them the opportunity to have quality time alone. Consider offering to babysit or, if you don’t live locally, send a note with money for a babysitter and instructions to do something for themselves like dinner or a nice hike.
This used to be my bottom of the bucket, lowest ranked love language. I think I took for granted how much I needed and depended on my husband’s embrace. Without him suddenly, and in the thick of a pandemic, I suddenly needed touch more than ever. The weight of the loss took a toll on my shoulders, my feet, and my back. Grief made everything hurt. A few blessed souls sent me gift cards for massages or pedicures, and I quickly learned that touch was a healing lifeline for me in my grief.
To support your grieving friend, consider sending a gift card for a massage or a pedicure and be sure to include enough for the tip.
Words of Affirmation
When we lose someone we love, especially a spouse, we’ve also lost our biggest cheerleader. Every now and then, someone will pause and just encourage me, “Danita, you’re doing a really good job raising your girls through this,” or “I’m amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit in you. You’re a remarkable woman.” These encouragements feel like manna falling from the sky on my deserted heart. They’ve kept me going when I felt like I simply couldn’t.
Stop mid-conversation and tell your friend how much you admire them. Send them a handwritten letter or an encouraging text. Words of affirmation are always welcome in the midst of grief.
Acts of Service
A fellow widow reached out to me shortly after my husband died. I had never met her and she lived across the country, but she knew what the overwhelm felt like and she had great mercy on me. She helped find someone who could clean my home. The cleaners ended up being followers of Christ who prayed for me and prayed throughout my small, grief-filled apartment. The smell of oranges and the prayers lifted a little bit of the heaviness for me that day—and they ended up becoming dear friends of mine. In those days I also had a friend who came over to fix the plumbing, the car, the sheetrock. I enjoyed my friend’s company, and I was sure grateful for the help.
If you aren’t close by and can’t help in practical ways yourself, send your friend a gift card or a check for a house cleaning (or two!) or a gift card for an oil change. You won’t believe the huge load that will take off their plate.
My prayer team from the previous place we were stationed sent me a big white, fuzzy blanket. They prayed over the blanket before sending it and told me that whenever I wrapped that blanket around me or my girls, to remember that we were covered in prayer. When I couldn’t hug my prayer team, I could hold that blanket and know they loved me. Another time, the team at Joyful Life sent a box with Scripture cards, a magazine, and several comforts—from the other side of the world! That meant the world to me. I sat reading that magazine, feeling seen and not forgotten.
Send some comforting tea, warm fuzzy socks, soothing essential oils, a candle, or a heating pad. Leave a little gift on the front porch or just send it in the mail. Anything that says, “I’m thinking of you. You’re loved. You’re not alone.”
BRAVING HOLY GROUND
While stepping into someone else’s sorrow can feel overwhelming and maybe even scary, I want to encourage you today that the risk is worth it. You will find yourself on holy ground as you usher in comfort to the brokenhearted, one small step at a time.
Who do you know who is grieving and may need support? Drop their first name in the comments and list the one action step you want to take to show them that they are not alone.
If you are grieving, drop a comment with one way someone stepped into your sorrow that meant a lot to you.
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I am sorry for your loss. I lost my husband last July. Thank you for sharing your story it really helped me to understand why I don’t hear from people. I pray God’s comfort and blessings on you and your daughters♥️
Oh Ms Linda, I’m so sorry. It’s another loss when grief effects our relationships. I think you’d find a lot of healing in the devotional When Mountains Crumble: RebuildingLife After You Lose Someone You Love. There’s a whole section on how to navigate relationship changes in the aftermath of a loss. It’s so hard. I’m praying for you right now. Lord, send comfort and community to Ms Linda.
Danita, this was such a good list of things to do and ideas. Yes, so often we don’t know what to say and do and we worry and pray from afar when the person needs some nearness and tangible things to know they are loved, thought of, and someone sees them. It can be so lonely when no one reaches out and it can make you think something is wrong with you. The last things you need is to feel shame on top of your grief. But I think silence and no help happens more than we think. Which is so sad and causes the person more trauma. I wish the church was better at helping the grieving, but it seems many people slip through the cracks.
Yes! What insightful responses, Ms Thesea! Thank you for sharing because just hearing that other people feel the same way is very comforting.
I needed this. My brother passed away suddenly and I have struggled with how to continue to reach out to my SIL and nieces. I don’t live near them, and we are not particularly close, so I have been sending texts every few weeks to let them know I love them and are always here for them and praying for them. I think I may send a small gift and we are hoping to have a family get together for Easter.
Oh Ms Lisa, I ache alongside you with the loss of your brother. I’m so grateful for how you’re texting your sister in law. It’s more about connection than perfection, as Mr Chris Fabry said in our recent radio interview together. I thought that was profound. You may LOVE my free Companion’s Guide: How to Help Your Grieving Friend. It’s packed with more practical advice, long distance or local. http://www.companioninsorrow.com Praying for you and your family now, comfort and compassion.
This is honestly so so helpful. Thank you for this, Danita.
Oh Ms Lauren. I’m so grateful to hear that! So grateful for your merciful heart to care for others.
I lost my dad is 10 months ago and I feel that I need hugs now more than ever, so just a simple hug helps me not feel so alone in my grief journey. I think if people get past the fear of approaching one who is grieving and just ask “what do you need?” Or “how can I pray for you?” that would make a world of difference on both ends.
Yes!! I was/am desperate for higs! So true. Just keeping the communication open is huge difference between isolation and community. ❤
Hi ! Thank you for all these ideas that will help me with my friend who´s baby daughter died after she was born.
Greetings from Mexico
Oh Ms Karla. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s baby girl. I’m so grateful you are in her life. Praying for both of you now.❤