5 Ways to Comfort Grievers

May 8, 2023

Allen is home. We live one mile from the Allen Premium Outlets swinging in regularly to shop for deals on everything from shoes to shirts. Safe. Serene. And now shockingly sad after a senseless act of violence.

When unspeakable tragedy hits, support from others fills in the empty space – the gap between this fallen world and the way it’s supposed to be. Our community stepped up and bridged that gap when our three year old son died after years of chemo. Lifelines holding us up when only ashes and rubble remained.

They taught me “5 S’s” of support for grievers. Let’s offer comfort to others walking through grief and trauma:

1. Slip on their shoes

First, imagine yourself in their place. How would you feel? What types of emotions would you be experiencing? What would feel helpful vs hurtful?

I imagine store clerks at the outlet having vivid memories of the sound of bullets, the clank of the store gate coming down, the click of the door being locked, visions of ushering panicked shoppers to safety in the back of the store coupled with a fear so strong it makes you weak in the knees.

First responders likely arrived to a horrific scene to help. I envision the way they bandaged up wounds and arranged transport to local hospitals. The way they honored the privacy and dignity of the victims who departed this world by placing white sheets over their bodies.

I think about the families who received that unexpected call forever altering the course of life.

Envisioning those impacted activates your own empathy. It helps transport you to the right frame of mind to offer genuine help.

2. Show up

Offer support in a way proportional to your relationship with the person impacted. Some ideas include:

Community member you don’t know personally = donate to local causes supporting victims https://www.cityofallen.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=5028&fbclid=IwAR39HmY4O1C-1-qk7Vu3hRnGDzqh7wP1SfKGgFEVb6Pj-QqJ5FOWdOZy8cw&mibextid=Zxz2cZ or providing counseling for the community, attend vigils and prayer services

Casual friend or acquaintance = social media comments or personal message, cards, donations

Co-worker = work emails, texts, cards, flowers, meal gift cards

Friend = Meals, texts, cards, flowers, meaningful gifts, lunch or dinner

Close inner circle friend or family member (or pastor) = all of the above plus an in-person visit if griever is open to it

*Note: Be very careful about invading someone’s most private life moment unless you are a very close friend or family member. Before barging in uninvited, check yourself. Avoid any tendencies to come riding in on your white horse to save the day. This causes more long-term harm than good.

For close friends and family invited in, expect to feel incredibly uncomfortable entering into their darkest hour. Most people worry about what to say. Leave your lengthy words and your fix-it toolbox at home. Nothing you do or say will take away the pain. It can’t be fixed. But, it can be less lonely with the support of others. Helplessness tries to convince you there’s no point in being there for your loved one. It’s lying. Your presence sparks a light in a sea of darkness. Grievers need their safe people.

Avoid this common mistake. Many people offer platitudes trying to simplify grief and trauma into a linear one-liner. Statements such as “God will never give you more than you can handle,” or “Heaven must have needed another angel,” or “Don’t grieve without hope” may help you feel better, but it won’t help a griever. Platitudes feel at best like empty promises and at worst judgments.

As Pastor Rick Warren who lost his child to suicide said, “The more extreme the trauma, the less words you bring.” You can’t take away the pain. Your presence speaks volumes. It is enough.

Park the platitudes. Present your presence.

3. Simply Listen

Avoiding a griever because you’re uncomfortable makes them feel even more isolated and alone. Greet them and read their cues. Go with the flow.

Be willing to listen. Grievers don’t always feel like talking about what happened. Let them lead and don’t force it. If they open-up, listen not just with your ears but with your heart. Offer empathy, compassion, and grace.

When our son Jenson passed away, I prepared to return to work after several months off. My friend Linda offered great counsel to co-workers as they asked, “What do I say to Kristin when she comes back?”.

“Just talk to her. She’s still a person. She just experienced something traumatic.”

Grievers may want a good laugh. Or need to talk about fashion or sports. Or want to hear what’s happening with you. Or cry. Listen and follow their lead.

Respect their boundaries. If a griever wants to share, they will. If they don’t, it’s not personal. Everyone grieves differently. 

4. Suspend Judgment

If a griever is willing to open up and talk about their pain or memories, remember you are on holy ground. The wound runs deep. It’s raw and aching from trauma. Be a safe place where confidences can be kept.

There is no place for judgment in a sea of sorrow.

A friend of mine lost her sister to COVID. As she shared her heartfelt emotions on Facebook, one commenter mixed scripture with judgment about how she “should be grieving”. I wanted to punch him in the virtual face. Thankfully self-control ruled the day. I called my friend offering empathy and a listening ear instead.

Judgment from well-meaning people who don’t understand the depths of your pain or have never experienced the assault tragic grief inflicts add additional injury. Be careful not to scratch at scars.

Grievers may need to cry, cuss, scream, rant or laugh all in one sentence. And grief often causes temporary loss of any filter. Let a griever grieve. Don’t be alarmed when a normally decisive person encounters decision paralysis. It’s normal.

Put away your gavel. Suspend judgment.

5. Shine love

Nothing goes further than unconditional love.

Statements like:

I love you.

You’re not alone.

I’m praying for you.

I wish I could take away some of your pain.

Be like Jesus and offer comfort. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”. 

When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, the Bible says “Jesus wept”. He mourned as he felt the depths of their pain. Bring hugs, tears, and your whole heart. Walk through the ups and downs, the uncomfortable and uncertainty with unfailing unconditional love.

You can be a fountain of healing in a desert of mourning. Let’s all be a positive force for comfort and healing today and tomorrow.

Categories: Courage Grief grieving healing
Tags: allen outlet shooting, comfort for grievers, grief, grievers, grieving,

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