by Natasha Smith
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Miscarriage, a stillbirth, divorce, the death of two sisters, my dad’s death, loss of career, loss of identity, financial loss, a nephew murdered: by my 30s, my life felt marked by loss.
I felt hopelessly and utterly alone for the greater part of this grief journey, even though I was surrounded by family and friends.
Looking back, I think, how would others have known how to support me?
My peer group at the time was mostly comprised of teens and 20-somethings. No one had taught us about grief: how to cope, understand it, or how to support others in it.
So, how can we begin learning how to support those who grieve? I have found the answer to every question I’ve experienced in grief in the example of Jesus and the stories told in the Bible of people who have overcome great loss.
I did not know how to express or process my grief. I did not know how to ask for support. So, it became a dance of grace for me and those around me: extending and receiving grace as we learned together. An exchange in steps forward, side steps, and at times, back peddles.
For me, grief played out in an array of emotions: anger, fear, annoyance, impatience, sadness, guilt, frustration, and doubt to name a few. I learned along the journey to recognize variant emotions like frustration or anger to be grief. Yet, at any given time—during bouts of grief—I projected those emotions toward those closest to me, like my husband, kids, or other family members and friends.
At times, our closest supporters will feel the brunt force of the hurt associated with our grief. As innocent bystanders, they can feel as if slapped in the face by the hurt of grief directed toward them. It can feel like a wall, a pushing away, and seem downright offensive.
“Why are you treating me this way when I’m trying to help you?” they might wonder. It can feel as if grievers are especially hard to love. At times, I felt hard to love because of the weight of grief I carried and how it was seeping and seething out in ways I didn’t expect.
But God—who is great in compassion—taught me otherwise. God says I am not hard to love, and neither are you. The Apostle Matthew wrote, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14 NIV).
By grace, supporters can see the griever through the eyes of compassion like Jesus. To see the grieving as a person whose heart has been wounded and broken, and whose sharp edges are trying to find a safe place to land.
Supporters have an opportunity to be compassionate toward grievers and to be near to them like Jesus.
Job’s friends have a bad reputation for offering all sorts of unhelpful advice and lobbing false accusations against him to explain his loss. But at the onset of Job’s loss and grief—which was immense—we find that Job’s friends simply sat with him.
Job 2:13 reads, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
In supporting those who are grieving, know that there is power in your presence. In essence, as grievers, we just want you and your presence to remind us we are not alone. Sometimes we need someone who will just sit with us while we wait for God to do the work. There’s no pressure, you don’t have to try to cheer us up, counsel us, or fix us. Just trust that your presence holds such power. I have found so much comfort in someone just sitting with me.
Jesus often went off by himself to quiet places. We know that when Jesus learned of his cousin John the Baptist’s death, he got on a boat and went away by himself (Matthew 14:13).
Cultivating a safe place and a soft place for a grieving heart to land can look like silence and solitude. Allowing space for grievers to have time alone to sit with their emotions, to reflect, to pray, or even to cry out to God.
As a wife and mom, it’s hard to get away and make space for grief, but I have encountered the difference it made in my grief journey. My husband helped and continues to help me in this area of making space. To sit with me while I literally cry on his shoulder, without trying to “fix it.”. And also to give time alone to sit with and process grief. He has kept the kids occupied, or done what was needed so I could participate in small groups, times of prayer, or sit with a counselor.
Creating a safe space means allowing grievers to share their stories and to say their loved one's names without feeling the need to explain the details of the loss, or that they will be judged for their emotions being too raw or the grieving process taking so long. It’s a place where others listen well without competing and comparing stories. In a safe space, supporters can carry and share the light of the Gospel without using it as a weapon to push grievers to get over their grief.
Supporting those who grieve is a dance of grace well worth it for loving like Jesus to support those who grieve as Jesus did.
Natasha Smith is a wife, mother, and writer from North Carolina. Her work has appeared at Her View from Home, Focus on the Family, and TODAY Parents. She is the author of Can You Just Sit with Me?