10 Practical Ways to Help People Who Are Hurting
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Sometimes it's hard to find the right words when someone you care about is suffering. Still, there are plenty of ways you can be supportive in painful circumstances. After my son died in a skiing accident thirteen years ago at the age of sixteen, people reached out to me in a multitude of ways that enabled me to survive—and eventually thrive. When you don’t know what to say or do to help people who are hurting, try the following:
1. Pray for them.
The power of prayer is real. I still run into people who tell me that they have continued to pray for my family since my son’s death twelve years ago. I consider myself a walking miracle, and I'm extremely thankful to God for every one of those petitions people made on my family’s behalf.
2. Hug them.
Hugs are a wonderful way to show you care. Another plus with giving someone a hug is that you don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing. When people hugged me, I felt like it was okay to not say anything when I didn’t feel like talking. The hug said it all.
3. Stay with them.
Hurting people can be filled with fear. A husband and wife whom my family have known for many years stayed with us for about three weeks after our son died. They lived around five hundred miles away, and the man took off work to do this. My husband and I were actually afraid to stay alone at night for some time, so this was a tremendous help. It's difficult to describe the anxiety a parent feels after a child dies. Try to make sure grieving people are not left alone in those early, dark days.
4. Bring a meal and leave it at the door.
Grieving people don’t always feel like keeping up a conversation. When people are hurting, they may not want to talk when someone stops by with a meal. Sometimes it's best to leave a yummy, homemade meal at the door. Doing this will meet people's physical needs and make them feel loved, while giving them any needed personal space.
5. Send them a text.
A brief text can make a huge difference to a person who is suffering. One of my friends sends me a text on my son’s birthday and the anniversary of his death every year. It has one endearing emoji on it. It’s hard to describe how much that text means to me. Each time I receive her texts, I feel like there are a thousand words of love in that one emoji.
6. Call them.
Take a moment and give them a call. People who are hurting may not answer the phone, but it’s nice to know someone is checking in on them. One day I didn’t know if I could make it another moment. I had almost completely lost my will to live. The phone rang. It was one of the moms from my daughter’s soccer team. This woman’s phone call got me through that overwhelming moment and helped me to keep going.
7. Just sit next to them.
I remember crying on the shoulders of my female friends. They acted like mothers to me (my own mom had died many years ago). One evening a Christian friend of mine brought over a meal. Another friend of a different faith had stopped by and was trying to encourage me by telling me about reincarnation, and my Christian friend and I sat on the sofa next to each other as this dear woman shared. We both appreciated her efforts to comfort me, even though we didn’t hold the same beliefs as she did. I felt loved and cared for by both women, even though they were showing their concern in different ways. This is a precious memory for me.
8. Include them in your activities.
They may not come, but that’s okay. It’s nice to feel included in everyday activities and special events, especially when hurting people are trying to find the “new normal.”
9. Help them resume their activities.
Go with your friend to the grocery store or shopping mall. It’s difficult to take on everyday errands in the early weeks and months after a traumatic life experience. Sometimes you don’t want to run into anyone you know. I felt very self-conscious going out in public for a long time because I knew people felt so badly for me. One of my friends would come over and help me do my grocery shopping at a different place farther away from my neighborhood store. I felt protected by her presence. This is also a special memory for me.
10. Don’t tell them that they need to move on; help them to move forward.
Don’t expect a full recovery. Major hurts such as the death of a loved one, abandonment, illness, divorce, being the victim of sexual abuse or other serious crimes, and extreme poverty are not things people get over. This world hurts, very badly a lot of the time. If your child were a prisoner of war, would you miss him or her less after five years than you did after one month? Of course not. The pain would be even greater after five years because it would be that much longer since you had been with each other. People can heal from major life traumas, but a scar is likely to remain.
You might be wondering why all these problems exist in a world made by a good and loving God. The truth is that all of the world’s problems stem from one incident: mankind’s rebellion against God back in the garden of Eden. Still, we can take courage because sin and death won’t have the final word. God sent his Son to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: live the perfect life on our behalf and be the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through faith in Christ alone for our salvation, we will triumph over all the tragedies of this world and live forever with God in glory:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
Now that’s great comfort indeed.
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss by Jerry L. Sittser