When a Friend Suffer a Loss of Identity
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
When we face a loss of identity, we don’t need someone to give us a list of “right things to do.” Instead, we need a friend with a gracious and understanding heart who can say, “I care for you and accept you where you are today. I’m not here to ‘fix’ you, but I do want to comfort and encourage you as you journey through this place of sadness.” The principles below remind us of the heart attitudes that can help comfort a hurting friend.
Minimize Minimizing. One of the most frustrating experiences is to be with a person who downplays loss, minimizes pain, or ignores it altogether. Peggy Skattebo, who faced her own grief and loss of identity during her husband’s cancer battle, expressed the feelings of many when she said, “There were times I just wanted to scream out, “Can’t anybody see how difficult this is for me?'”
Listen, Just Listen. After his amputation, Dave Dravecky says he “gravitated toward people who were good listeners.” For someone who faces a serious loss, such as a loss of identity, it means so much when “somebody just sits there and listens without trying to give an answer or fixing how you feel. There is so much comfort when they just accept what you have to say and let you lay it out there on the table.” Be careful not to judge your friend’s feelings or expression of emotion. It is a privilege that your friend trusts you enough to be emotionally vulnerable and honest with you.
Tons of Time. Passersby on a city street corner were recently asked how long it takes to grieve the loss of a loved one. Their answer? Two weeks! No wonder those who face grief and loss feel alone. Our society doesn’t understand the pain of working through the death of a loved one, much less the pain of dealing with other significant losses in life. So give your friend time to work through the losses of a changing identity. If your friend gets stuck in a particular aspect of the loss, it may be appropriate to suggest counseling, but resist the urge to become impatient with the grieving process.
Be a Prepared Participant. The journey through loss takes many twists and turns, so it’s helpful to understand what the process may look like. After the initial shock, most people experience emotional numbness, confusion, anger, and physical problems such as headaches or abdominal ailments. They may also experience depression, apathy, decreased memory and cognitive function, and feelings of despair. To make matters more interesting, your friend may exhibit all of these symptoms in the span of an hour! It can be helpful to talk with others who are farther down the road in dealing with a similar loss so that you can better understand what your friend may be facing.
Forget Fixing. Resist the urge to offer solutions. Trying to “fix” the pain of another person’s loss is really trying to meet our own need for closure or relief. There is no magic solution to wipe away the pain of loss. Pain dissipates as it is felt, as tears are shed, as adjustments are made, as we allow God to heal us. It is a tremendous blessing to have a comforting friend through this process. It is helpful to remember that Isaiah 40:1 doesn’t say, “Fix, fix my people.” It says, “Comfort, comfort my people.”
For suggestions on helping a friend who is hurting, we recommend Stand by Me, by Dave and Jan Dravecky.