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How do you help friends as they are going through a crisis?  That is the question I’ve been asked twice this week.  One was about someone who is going through a divorce at 69 years old and another is a woman whose husband was just diagnosed with Stage four brain cancer.  I’m going to discuss things I think are important, which I may have done or wished I had done, walking through my own losses.


I’m going to use the acronym TIME to explain my suggestions.  T stands for TALK, I is for INTIMATE TIME with God, M stands for MEALS, and E is for EXERCISE.  It doesn’t matter what kind of crisis someone is going through those four things seem very difficult to do.




Encourage them to TALK and to listen!  When someone is in a crisis, whether it’s a long-term illness, life-threatening illness, divorce, etc., it is almost impossible (and most usually avoided)  to talk about hard subjects, like bills, end-of-life decisions, long-term care, future decisions, children, and money issues.   When they are facing an illness that could be potentially life threatening, long-term recovery, or long-term care, it is important to discuss as much as possible up front.  Encourage discussing all those issues because it could be that individual will have to take care of much of it while a loved one is sick.  Getting an attorney, if necessary, to set up a will, trust, durable power of attorney, health-care durable power of attorney, etc., are also important considerations.  As a friend, just encourage them to discuss whatever they are able to handle at that time.


I feel that it’s important to TALK to children and include them in some of the decisions.  Sometimes we shelter others because we do not want them to worry, but I believe it’s good for them to have the facts that they can handle and are appropriate for their age.  Loss is a process, so whatever the loss is the whole family needs to be able to take one step at a time.


TALK about dreams, wishes, desires for their lives.  Laugh and cry together.  TALK about special memories.  Discussing their “wish list” or “bucket list” to see what they can accomplish is a way to look forward.  Before we knew my husband had cancer, he planned a trip to Hawaii for my birthday.  After his diagnosis and surgery, my preference was to seek more medical help, but his was to take that dream trip.  Now I look back, and those are extra special memories! 




Encourage them to spend INTIMATE TIME with God through prayer and listening for Him. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY, even when they don’t feel like it; even when they think God has left; even when things seem hopeless.  I believe in miracles, and we never know how God is working in the background and has something marvelous in mind for us.  We also don’t know or understand sometimes when He isn’t answering our prayers like we would like Him to, but keep that communication going.  If they can’t pray at times, knowing that others are praying for them and with them is very comforting.  God hears us even when the simplest of prayers are spoken!




Encourage eating MEALS several times a day, whether they feel like it or not.  Keep healthy snacks, meal bars, shakes, fruit, vegetables, and water available to eat whenever they can.  It helps if someone else helps monitor that eating thing and makes sure they do it.  It is a real blessing when friends bring a meal over or take them to eat!




EXERCISE is not my favorite thing and not something anyone wants to do when they are hurting.  My advice is just walk whenever they can.  Walk across the street, walk down the halls of the hospital, walk the neighborhood, walk on the treadmill.  Anything to get moving!  This is something a friend can certainly help with.  A friend can take them for a walk, go shopping, a walk through the woods, and just be there to listen!


Understanding what grief is and the stages of grief is helpful to all involved.  Know that fear, loneliness, anger, depression, and many other emotions are normal reactions to a crisis, and that knowledge will be helpful as they navigate through them.  They should not be afraid to get professional help, whether that’s counseling, medication, an attorney, or a pastor.  My cousin says when a family member is diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease, the whole family is sick.  Keep that in mind whether you are that family member or a close friend walking that journey with them.


As simplistic as it may sound, remember the acronym TIME:









                AFTER A LOSS

                                            Debbie Edge


The most important thing you can do for a friend who has lost a loved one or going through another loss is to LISTEN and to UNDERSTAND that grief does not end in a month or two but continues in waves, unique to that individual.  Most grief does not end but requires adjusting to the “new normal” and building a new life.  That takes years!

People can have the best of intentions and still say very hurtful things, so be careful with your words.  Just keep it simple.  Tell them you love them, you want to help them, and that you are sorry for their loss.  Sometimes a hug or being there is the best you can do. 

Here are some things others have shared, in a loss due to death, that were hurtful to them:  

  • Now you know how I felt. 

  • Man, that’s a bummer.

  • You will get over this.

  • God will do great things through you. 

  • Your loved one is in a better place. 

  • Glad you had time to prepare for that loss. 

  • You can have another child. 

  • You didn’t trust God enough. 

  • Move on.

  • Get over it.   

Sometimes people avoid talking about the loved one thinking they are protecting you, not understanding that the healing process means talking about your emotions, crying, and eventually being thankful for your time with them.

I want to encourage you to be considerate and cautious with the use of texting, the internet, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  People going through a tragedy, hospitalization, and loss can be overwhelmed with well-meaning contacts.  Limit those contacts by talking to other family members for updates, having one person make the contacts for a group, letting family decide on and post obituaries, etc.   You never know what might offend someone going through grief, and sometimes the internet chatter gets information out too quickly.

If you want to help, just ask and expect an answer.  Many people do not like asking for help, but they can always benefit from your time, meals, running errands, babysitting, cards, and your prayers!  Some people benefit from getting together socially but others prefer not to.  Keep your invitations simple and short for a while.  Do not be offended when they do not want to do something with you at that particular time.  Do lunch, coffee, a movie, etc., with  same sex friends. Plan outings for the kids.  Encourage them to stay connected to the people and activities that they enjoyed before the loss and to investigate new opportunities. They will not be ready for a while, but at some point, encourage them to read about grief and loss, attend a support group, or set up times with a friend who has experienced something similar. 

Encourage them not to make any major changes for a year. They need that time to grieve and take some steps forward but are not ready for changes.   Encourage healthy eating, sleeping, exercising or physical activities, monitoring of medications, getting a doctor check- up, safety, and healthy behaviors.  Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to discuss seeking advice from a professional   if there are concerns with daily living skills or children concerns.

Understand that every first time will be difficult:   birthdays, anniversaries, going to church, and holidays.  Some people will be more comfortable with traditions, but others will need help to plan new memories or traditions.  Understand that fear, loneliness, anger, and depression are normal reactions to a loss but that with time, work, and Christ, those will improve.

I have heard that your greatest ministry comes out of your own losses. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”  “Love never gives up on people.  It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ERV)

Debbie Edge
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