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What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)


what-grieving-people-wish-you-knewBook Review ~ What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie. Crossway. 192 pages. 2016

I can’t recall reading a more helpful and practical book as the latest from Nancy Guthrie.   I was aware of the author as a teacher that the women in my church respect, but the topic grabbed my attention.  This book came at just the right time – you see, our family lost a loved one just over four months ago. Grief hits everyone differently. I saw that with my family when I lost my Mom twenty years ago, and again recently as I lost my father-in-law. This book was exactly what I needed to effectively be able to minister to family members who are grieving, and it’s going to be extremely helpful for all who read it and are the beneficiaries of the wisdom contained within.

The book is dedicated to the thousands of GriefShare facilitators in churches. I was familiar with GriefShare, as a family member is currently benefitting from a GriefShare group and several family members are receiving their daily encouraging email each morning.

The author and her husband are not strangers to grief, having lost two small children. Since those losses, she has interacted with many grieving people. She asked them to tell her what others said or did for them that was especially helpful or meaningful in the midst of grief. She asked them what they wish those around them had understood about their grief. She has incorporated what those grieving people told her throughout this book. Her hope for the book, which I certainly found to be the case, is that we will find ideas and encouragement and be emboldened to engage instead of avoid, the grieving people who are all around us and are waiting for someone to interact with them about the loss of their loved one.  I found in these pages many helpful things to say (and not to say) with those who are grieving, and to do (and not to do) with those who are grieving. There are just too many helpful suggestions included in the book. You just have to read (and highlight) those suggestions and examples for yourself.

The author concludes this helpful and practical book with a few questions that often arise concerning how to comfort the grieving and her suggested answers. She also shares suggested Scriptures to share with those who are grieving, many of which are from the Psalms.

I highly recommend this book for all, as we will all face grief ourselves as well as be in situations where we are ministering to family, friends, co-workers and church members who are grieving. This is one of my top books of the year.


Memorable Quotes from the Book

Here are 25 great quotes from Nancy Guthrie’s excellent new book What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), one of the top books I’ve read this year:

  1. The first and most important thing I have to tell you is this: It matters less what you say than that you say something.
  2. Don’t hesitate to approach someone because you think it has been too long since his or her loved one died so that they’ve probably moved on and wouldn’t want to talk about it anymore. The reality is more likely to be the opposite.
  3. Even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving. Really, there is nothing you can say that will make their loss hurt less. It’s going to hurt for a while. Your purpose in saying something is to enter into the hurt with them and let them know they are not alone.
  4. Grieving people are not expecting you to make the pain go away. They’re really just hoping that you will be willing to hurt with them. That’s what makes a great friend in the midst of grief!
  5. Don’t assume you know what someone else is feeling.
  6. Grieving people don’t need us to tell them what to do. They are not looking for advice unless they ask for it. They do, however, need caring, wise, close-by friends to talk with them about decisions that need to be made in a time when it is hard to think straight.
  7. A person who is sad doesn’t necessarily need to be cheered up but needs time, space, and permission to simply be sad for a while.
  8. Don’t tell them they need to move on. There is no timeline for grief, no appropriate or reasonable time frame for being really sad.
  9. I said the most typical thing people say to grieving people. And the minute I said it, I wished I hadn’t. I should know better. Here’s what I said, or more accurately, what I asked: “How are you?” Many grieving people say they simply hate the question.
  10. The reality of grief is that sometimes right after the loss we feel strong, but as time passes and the dailyness of life without the loved one settles in, we feel weak and weepy. And it can be awkward to talk about.
  11. I noted two things in particular that grieving people told me over and over again that they really want people to say to them. First, grieving people long to hear stories about the person who died and specific things she said or did that were meaningful and memorable. The second thing people told me they really want people to say to them—and this may be the most powerful way you can bring comfort to someone who is grieving—is to keep saying the name of the person who died.
  12. If I had to boil down the message of this entire book to just two words, these two would probably cover it: show up. Or, to put it another way, don’t disappear; don’t avoid. Enter in. Engage.
  13. The truth is, most people process grief through talking.
  14. We have to earn the right to laugh around or with our grieving friends. We earn that right by being willing to weep with them, by demonstrating and perhaps telling them outright that we are well aware of the load of grief they are carrying and that we don’t assume it is going to be dealt with quickly.
  15. What grieving people really need is a few friends who make it clear that they intend to show up and help out, not just in an initial spurt of effort but over the long haul.
  16. When we’ve lost someone we love, we have a hard time understanding how the earth can keep spinning and people can keep doing the daily things of life since it seems that everything about our world has changed. We want the world to stop and take notice.
  17. There is nothing like getting handwritten notes and cards in the mail. Nothing.
  18. I have come to think that one of the gifts given to us in the death of someone we love is that we think more about eternal things. We are awakened to the reality that this life is not all there is.
  19. In addition to the broad assumption that pretty much everybody goes to heaven or at least people who haven’t done anything really bad go to heaven, there is broad misunderstanding of what heaven really is.
  20. One book I’ve come across communicates like no other these truths about heaven and how they can make a difference to the grieving person—the only one I’ve bought in bulk to give to people—is Grieving, Hope and Solace. It is a beautiful book to give to someone in the midst of grief, written by Albert Martin following the death of his wife, Marilyn.
  21. Paul commanded us to comfort one another with the truth of the resurrection yet to come. Surely this reality should impact the words we use as we seek to comfort those who are grieving the death of someone they love who died in Christ.
  22. Our culture wants to put the Band-Aid of heaven on the hurt of losing someone we love. Sometimes it seems like the people around us think that because we know the one we love is in heaven, we shouldn’t be sad. But they don’t understand how far away heaven feels, and how long the future seems as we see before us the years we have to spend on this earth before we see the one we love again.
  23. Sometimes grieving people are told that they shouldn’t be sad, because the person they love is now in heaven. But such a remark ignores the deep pain and intense loneliness the grieving feel. There is room to be both deeply joyful that the deceased loved one is in the presence of God while also deeply sad that he or she is no longer sharing day-to-day life on this earth.
  24. To tell those working their way through grief that something must be wrong with them since they are still so sad suggests not only that they are doing this grief thing wrong but that the person who died really wasn’t worth being this sad over, in this way, for this long.
  25. It is our grief that keeps us feeling close to the person who died. There is a sweetness to the misery in that when we are thinking about that person, shedding tears over the loss, it actually helps us to feel closer to him or her.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)

  1. This is great- and so true. Thank you!

  2. Well Done, as always! You have such a gift 😘

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