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Losing someone you love hurts.
And it also hurts to watch someone have to walk down that difficult and painful path of grief and loss. It's hard to know what the best thing to do for them would be. Do you try to act normal? Do you send flowers or money? Do you drop food off on their doorstep? But what if they have diet restrictions that you don't know about?
If you are at a loss on how to help a friend through their loss, keep reading!
If you've ever been to counseling, you may have heard about the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This is the natural way that we process through difficult situations, such as losing a loved one. The stages don't always follow that exact order, and sometimes you jump back and forth between the stages multiple times.
I'm no psychology expert, but a simple search on Google will help you find the meaning of each stage:
Denial is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that helps to buffer the initial shock of loss.
As the numbness of denial wears off, the pain of the loss begins to firmly take hole. We begin to search for blame, feel intense guilt, and can often lash out.
Bargaining is the stage of "what if's," which provides a temporary escape from the pain. It provides hope and gives us time to adjust to the new reality of the situation.
Different from clinical depression, which can be treated by a trained doctor, this kind of depression is the normal reaction to a great loss. We might feel intense sadness, loss of sleep, reduced appetite, and loss of motivation.
Finally, at the end of the tunnel, acceptance refers to accepting the reality of a loss and that nothing can change that reality. This does NOT mean that we are "okay" with the loss, however.
These are the stages of grief that your loved one might experience. Keep in mind that, however, that their journey through these different stages might look more like a bowl of spaghetti than a timeline. They might go through one stage multiple times, stay in the stage for a long period of time, or skip it altogether. The grief experience is unique to every person and situation.
And remember, to give your grieving friend plenty of grace during this time. If they lash out in anger without reason or continue to distance themselves from you, try not to take offense. Continue to love on them while they process their difficult emotions in their own way.
I think one of the most heartfelt ways that you can let someone know you're here for them is through a handwritten note. Whether they are someone who lives far away or someone you see every day, putting your heartfelt support down on paper shows intentionality.
Writing out your feelings will help you collect your thoughts and say all the things you want to say that you might not think of in the moment if you were speaking to them face to face. And a text message or email just doesn't hold the same warmth as a handwritten note. A card is something they can touch. It's something they can pin on their wall or set on their desk as a reminder of your thoughtfulness.
However, figuring out what to say in a card can still be difficult. I have a few condolence prompts in my FREE PDF on the 25 Best Things to Say in a Blank Note Card. There are all sorts of other prompts in there to help you out for different note-writing occasions.
In my Tennessee world of Southern Hospitality, a common practice when a friend is experiencing loss is too cook a meal and drop it off at their house. I've even seen groups of friends create online signup sheets (called MealTrains) to make sure that every meal for the grieving family is covered for weeks or even months!
But what do you do if you can't cook? What if you don't know what kind of food they like? Or what if that friend has very specific diet restrictions that you're unsure of?
Well, if they are using a Meal Train, hopefully they'll include those dietary preferences and descriptions in the description.
But if not, one of my go-to gifts for friends going through loss is to include a gift card to their favorite restaurant or a food delivery service along with my handwritten note. I'll usually mention it in my message that I want them too treat themselves to a good meal!
Other gift ideas include: flowers, chocolates, ice cream, a fruit basket, a blanket, a candle, a voucher for a house cleaning service, or a gift card for a spa day or massage. Personalized gifts that will help them remember their loved one who has passed can also be quite meaningful like a framed photo, a painting, or some sort of printed image of their loved one.
Grief after the death of a loved one is an incredibly dark and desolate place. The most important thing is that your friend knows that they aren't alone in that darkness. Stand with them. Lend them a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to their inner turmoil if they need it. Shine the light of Christ into their lives when they feel like there isn't any light at all.