When Comforting Gets Tough
Comforting a grieving friend can have its prickly moments, but when authentic support is given and received, it is deeply satisfying for both parties. While it is basic to our shared humanity that we need each other, at times we push away those who are the very ones we most need. As a comforter, please remember that your efforts will eventually have the positive results as you remain consistent, calm, and caring.
Let’s talk about the prickles for a little bit. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Hurting people are more capable of hurting other people. Short tempers and unkind words are often an automatic response towards others when we find ourselves in pain. This goes for emotional pain as well as physical pain.
- If the grieving person has been known to turn passive aggressive when their feelings are hurt, this may likely be a common default for them in the pain of grieving. Shutting down and/or pushing you out of their lives might be a natural response for this type of person.
- If someone already struggles with minimal coping skills, grieving will not improve that limited ability. You might observe substance use or abuse as a method of surviving their pain. You might notice severe mood swings and other unexpected behaviors.
- The level of one’s mental health plays another factor for the grieving. The shock of loss and the onset of pain produces triggers that can escalate problems for them. The mentally unhealthy person struggles to find a clear and healing path to travel with their pain.
So if you are a friend of one who grieves and you are finding it challenging to know how to comfort your friend, may I suggest that you keep a couple of things in mind for your own well being:
- It is not your job to fix the pain that has overtaken the heart of your friend. Instead, it is your privilege to feel it with them and let them know you care. Just listen and cry with them.
- Assure them that their anger, suffering, mood swings, or passive aggressive behaviors will not turn you away from them. Be patient with them and allow some space, yet stay informed and aware of their behaviors and needs via those who might be closer to the bereaved. Their mental health challenges and how it interacts with their broken heart is their business and their work. Your part is to support them and encourage them to get professional help through a grief coach, counselor, or other mental health professional. (Most pastors do not have training in this type of counseling and might not be a dependable resource)
- Keep very clear and healthy boundaries for yourself so that you are aware of who is responsible for what: they are responsible for their healing work and seeking resources to help them, you are responsible to listen, care, encourage, and pray.
- Praying for the bereaved is a God given privilege. Taking a crushed and broken hearted friend to the throne room of God is a powerful influence in each of your lives. God knows your friend’s needs completely. He knows your gifts, skills and limitations also. By keeping yourself and your friend in prayer, God will be able to work on both of your behalves to bring grace and mercy at just the moment needed. So as much as possible, pray with your friend when you are together. Pray for him or her when you are apart. Pray for yourself and for God’s patience, understanding and on-going support to be in your heart for your friend.
Your friend needs you to be strong, consistent and not easily turned away. This kind of love is best fueled by the Love that comes from the heart of God. As you comfort your friend, I pray that the God of all comfort will be present with the two of you and His faithful healing hand will soothe the pain and heal the wound.