A few weeks ago I shared with you about how I sometimes struggle with my words. My dear friend of days gone by shared transparently with us about offering hope amidst depression & anxiety, and now I’m excited to introduce you to another sweet friend from the same era. Johanna Mutz knows about friendship after loss. She’s a driving force in the creative team behind laurelbox, whose mission is to nourish hearts after loss. I’ve been grateful on more than one occasion for her help in knowing how to encourage suffering friends. Here’s Johanna! – Christen
I’ve heard it said that after experiencing grief, scales fall off your eyes and reveal pain in people all around you. And in my own life, I can attest that loss is a powerful teacher of empathy and sensitivity. But thankfully, I can also attest that personal pain isn’t a pre-requisite for carrying another’s burden well. I will forever be grateful to my close community of women, some who comforted me from an intimate understanding of loss, and some who comforted me by tenderly carrying a pain they had not personally experienced.
When it comes to friendships after loss, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I’ve been the griever and the comforter, so I’ve learned a few lessons about friendships after loss. And while it is true that friendship after loss is a tricky beast, the tools for connection and community in the wake of loss are actually very simple and God didn’t leave us without tools to navigate loss in this life.
I’ve found that when I don’t know where to turn first, I choose to lean on grace. And when it comes to grief, grace is a powerful tool. If you’re walking with a grieving friend, just know, you might text them, but not hear back. You might send a gift or a card, but not get a thank you note. You might offer to help, but not get a reply. And listen close when I say this, it’s probably not personal. Your beautiful friend may barely be getting by. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to hear from you, or see you, or that you hurt their feelings. It means they are grieving. So give them lots and lots of grace, and keep showing up. And if they don’t text back, still text that you love them. If they don’t say thank you for a card or gift, don’t bring it up. If they don’t reply to an offer for help, drop dinner in a cooler on their front porch. Increase your grace and decrease your need for affirmation. Grace has a beautiful opportunity to show up in grief. Release your own opinions about things. Know that someday, you will need that grace in return. Life is so much more abundant when we give endless grace.
Secondly, just be there for them. Your words can’t fix their pain. Don’t offer platitudes or give advice, especially if you’ve never been there. As much as you can, try and sit in their pain with them. It might make you feel a little jumpy and insecure. But just try. Your discomfort in talking about their loss is infinitely less difficult than their reality. So just try to embrace any awkwardness, sit in their pain, and give them space to process at their own pace. Remember too, that there will be times they want to do something normal. So be ok with that too. If they want to sit in your living room, eat cookies, and binge on old Friends episodes, then guess what, tonight you’re eating cookies and bingeing on old Friends episodes. Give them freedom to be wherever they need to be in their own time.
And lastly, I find it really helpful to make a firm plan of how to support your friend. It might feel forced and contrived, however, I think that without a plan, the chaos of the life can suck your time away before you know it. So write dates that might be hard for your friend on your calendar, and make a point to reach out during seasons that might be especially difficult, like the holidays or near birthdays.
You can do this hard work. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Together is the best way to walk through darkness, and we will all need this kind of friend someday or another.
Be sure to explore laurelbox, which you can also follow on Facebook and Instagram. I think you’ll be as grateful as I am for this small business, and you’ll find all sorts of treasures including the beautiful gifts below. Thank you for ministering to hurting hearts, Johanna, and for sharing your wisdom with us!