Thirteen years ago when we were walking through the valley of the shadow of death after losing our first child, I didn't really see any redeeming lessons or gifts from this time of sorrow.
Today, I can say that, in many ways, that period of time taught me many lifelong lessons. It impacted not only how I would view my pregnancies, births and children, but how I would look at life in general and grief in particular.
Now, I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to walking through grief, and I have not suffered a life changing death of a close loved one like a parent, sibling or young child. However, I have seen it through other's eyes and tried to learn from them, too. I've witnessed those who have reached out to friends in grief in loving and kind ways and those who have, unknowingly, hurt or wounded their grieving friends by omission or co-mission.
First of all, I would say the best advice is not to ignore the elephant in the room. Talk about the loved one who has died or is dying. Ask questions. Don't expect long answers, but be willing to listen.
Offer to do something specific such as take a child to school, make a meal and drop it off, sit at the home during the funeral, take home some laundry, etc. Then do it!
I love to plan. I offer to plan meals for the upcoming weeks after a death. To have home cooked meals dropped off ready to eat a few times of week lessens the burden. It gives them time to rest and recoup, instead of cook, shop for groceries etc.
Mark down important days on your calendar. For almost a year, I would call a good friend every 15th of the month. She lost her mom to cancer on Jan 15th and I know that each month, she relieved those final days. Call a person or drop them an e-card or letter on those days. Remember the day the baby was to be born, or the child would have graduated from High School, and of course the birthdays.
Milestones and New Adventures Years from now will restart their grief process. A young woman I know, whose mother died 11 years ago, said that high school graduation, college graduation, and her first job were all times she grieved again for her mom and were moments she was missing out on in her life. When her sister gave birth for the first time, I sent a card on her first Mother's Day to say how proud her mother would have been to see what an excellent mother she had become. I will always wonder what my child would have looked like, who they would have been more like, and what things they might be involved in at any given age.
Finally, if you don't know what to say, say that. Tell your friend that you are not that good at dealing with grief. Tell them that you love them and are willing to do whatever, but that you might not always have the right words or do the right things. They will understand. They are struggling through the grief thing, too.
I'm sure all of this you already know. You probably already handle grief of friends and family better than I do. For me, it's good to see that something positive has come out of our loss. Beauty has come from ashes.
My hope is that I too can learn to apply these lessons in my daily life. There are a lot of grieving, wounded souls walking around these days. They have lost jobs, spouses, kids, and their ideal worlds. My prayer is that today they will find comfort in the midst of all of it and see Jesus' open arms ready to offer them that comfort.