Question: A friend’s loved one passed away, what can I do?

Am always very sorry to hear of loved ones passing, especially if it was unexpected. As many people as there are in the family affected by a sudden loss, there are as many ways for friends to extend support and comfort them. In my family, everyone took it a little differently. Some were very private about it. Another more open with their grief. Some slid into depression. Some buried themselves in work. Everyone processes differently and there is no “proper” way about it. Hopefully amongst the close friends and family there isn’t any comments about how one “should” feel or act a certain way. We need to be gracious to each other with regards to how each person might be coping.

I found that generally, because each person might appreciate different gestures of comfort, you almost need to ask them what would work for them….but not in a broad “what would you like right now” sense because there’s so many thoughts and emotions in their mind that it’s hard to think of anything. I found questions like “If I did _____ for you, would that be helpful?” or “Would you want ____ right now?” or “Do you want company or just want to have some space?” or “Do you want to talk?” to be helpful….ask yes/no questions.

Personally, when I was in the depths of grieving, I didn’t feel like I should “burden” my friends with requests for company or anything else. I didn’t want to be a bother considering everyone else had their own families and work to attend to. But my good friends Dahn and Meth pretty much reprimanded me in saying I was insulting their friendship by not turning to them when they have offered to be there for me. I’m not saying you should reprimand your grieving friend by any means…but that worked for me. I needed to receive permission to lean on my friends. And I found my family did as well, though they heard it differently from their friends. So, let your friend know (maybe repeatedly) you EXPECT them to ask things of you.

Gift baskets are also nice. I like them for the practical aspect that they last a little longer than flowers do. But I would suggest if you’re putting a basket together, to include the foods and snack items that the family or friend would enjoy. We’re an Asian family and we received baskets of different jams and crackers and dip mixes. It was a very nice gift basket, but my family doesn’t really eat a lot of those kinds of foods. If it was roasted nuts, dried mangos, fruit and egg tarts however, that would’ve been more our thing. Find out what their comfort foods are. I would say hold off on restaurant gift certificates because often there are celebrations going on in restaurants, and it’s a bummer to sit next to one when you’re grieving.

Bringing meals may be a better idea. Meal planning when your heart and mind is overtaken by grief is a burden. Appetites are also not good, so a light meal is enough. Sometimes, if you ask whether they’d like a meal brought, they may decline…as to not burden you…but for us, it was nice having friends suddenly show up with a pan of fried noodles or a pot of soup to leave for us at the door.

And sometimes, just offering to go over and sit together is good too. Jewish ppl have a term for that…”sitting shiva”…where after a funeral, friends/community come together and just sit. You don’t  have to offer any words of comfort or really try to do anything. Just sit and share the sorrow. That’s often more comforting than anything you might think of saying.

Lastly, don’t take anything they might do or say right now personally. Grief can take hold and change a person. Keep them in prayers and walk alongside them if they invite you to. Walk alongside them from a distance if they don’t. In time, we become more ourselves again. And we will be thankful for those who walked with us the whole way.

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On the flip side, if you are a grieving family member, I am very sorry for your loss and what you are going through. I’ve been there. Some days you’re not sure if you’ll make it through, but it DOES get better. Know that your friends want to be there for you. Know also that they cannot read your mind to know what you would most appreciate being done or said. Their assumptions of what you might want could be exactly what you DON’T want. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know what would be comforting to you. This makes it better for everyone. Allow them to be there for you. They love you and care for you. God’s peace and comfort is upon you, through them.

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Brokenness: Nothing could’ve prepared me for this

(Image not mine)

Nothing.

It was a regular Thursday, but during the Calgary Stampede week. I was finishing at the office when I get a phone call. My brother’s been hurt. I need to get to the hospital. My sister and Dad were already there. I needed to find Mom. We didn’t have a car as Dad took it. But God provided as Meth came to drive my Mom and I to the hospital.

I saw look in my Dad’s eyes. Heard the sorrow from my Mom and sister. And heard the seemingly casual words from the attending physician. “He’s brain-dead. Please sign here to donate his organs.” (She said more than that, but that’s all I heard.) It was like clawing through a nightmare that you can’t wake up from. I slept, barely, woke….and the same crushing ache gripped me. I’m still not prepared to talk about all the details of that night or the following few days. I barely even let myself remember it…only fragments here and there. And purposely not in order. But I’m sure I can recall everything.

A raw, gaping, gushing hole was torn into my heart and life. The sun shone less brightly…and couldn’t bring warmth. I don’t know how else to describe it but my world changed. Shattered. Shifted. And I, I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a deep, dark precipice. I imagined leaning over, wondering how it would be to fall forward and allow the darkness consume me. But I felt God reach out and tell me that wasn’t the way, but to bring Him my sorrow instead. So for a while, it was like I sat on God/Daddy’s lap as He held and comforted me, a few feet from that cliff.

I thought back to a time where I wondered to myself “Well, I’ve been broken with regards to intelligence, friends, job and relationships….what else could be next? Health? Family? I think I’ll be prepared.

Well. I wasn’t. But, I had gotten to know God more…and I know He loves my brother more than I can humanly grasp. I know God wasn’t being cruel in letting this happen. I know God knows infinitely more than I could imagine. I don’t need to understand everything. I could accept or reject His comfort. I could trust or blame Him. I didn’t know much more than that. Over the next few years of healing, though I don’t think we’ll completely heal on this side of Heaven, I realized a few things more. This wasn’t about God smashing idols. Or asking me if He is enough. This was about whether or not I would be faithful and trust Him. No matter what.

“You give and take away, but I will bless Your name.”

This past weekend was his birthday. He would’ve been 28.
I love you and miss you.

Brokenness: Friends Forever

(Image not mine)

In high school there was a group of us friends that studied and hung together a lot. This was also when the TV sitcom Friends was hugely popular and my best friend at the time thought our group of friends could be like that. Live in an apartment together. Be friends forever. I thought to myself that we’ll likely not be friends forever. We were headed to different universities…paths were diverging. And it’s true, some are still friends today, but most aren’t in much contact. Including me and my then best friend.

In university, there were two girls that were the closest of friends to me. We shared hopes and dreams with each other. I thought, “THESE girls will be my friends forever for sure!” I loved them as sisters.

But one time, a misunderstanding or a miscommunication brought about a gaping rift in this “cord of three“…what I thought would never happen, did. Looking back there was fault on all sides…it doesn’t matter what happened though. At the time, I only felt deep rejection. And I felt I was betrayed by the friendships I thought would/could never break. I mourned what I lost. I felt very very alone.

God was gracious in providing some unlikely sources of friendship through that time. They were women a few years younger than me….as well as women a couple years older than me. I felt lost but these women were like threads in a net that supported me…and looking back, I am very thankful to God for them. I remember one time, after fellowship, “my” group stood in a tight circle talking and laughing. There was no room for me. I looked from the outside with sadness and left. But then I got a phone call from Stump, “Come join us for some bubble tea!” And when I arrived, there too was a tight circle, but one chair was left empty for me. What a warm and soothing sight….like balm to my aching heart.

Then, at another fellowship gathering, Jella led this wonderful hymn:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.

Words: Joseph Scriven (1857)

Tears poured down my face as the words reached into my heart. What a friend I have in Jesus!
All this time I had misplaced my security and hope in earthly friends…they were the first people I turned to, not Jesus. In addition to “intelligence”, “friends” became another idol that God smashed. My friends failed me because they were never meant to support me in the way that only Jesus can. I truly was wrong to look to them when I should’ve been looking to Jesus. Only He could bear my burdens. Only He can save and provide security that my heart longed for.

These lyrics were taped to my school binder during the rest of my time at university. Every day I practiced taking all thoughts and burdens to the only Friend who will never fail me. What a Friend I have in Jesus. Friend Forever.

Too Cool for Comfort

We came to a sad realization early this morning. Two windows were cracked open for the comfort of the cool night air but somewhere in the vicinity of 4:00am I awoke to the chilly draft of cool air entering that space behind my neck. Turning to my side I saw Skywalker in a fetal position with the sheet we use instead of a blanket pulled over his head and tucked all around him in efforts to seal out any such draft like that which crept into my coccoon. So that’s where all the sheet went…good thing I had the extra throw on my side of the bed. Groggily I braved the chilly air and shut one window before grabbing my big bathrobe to lay over Skywalker. Pulling the eye mask back on and re-coccooning myself in the throw, I went back to sleep.

It was just a little too cool to be comfortable,” said Skywalker this morning.

Yes it was….which means it’s time for the blankets to come back out.
Which means Summer is slowly, but surely, coming to a close.
Which, in anticipation of the short days and long nights of Winter, is sad.

On the plus side, we can now cuddle without him telling me it’s too hot.