Dear Maria,

A family in our church just had a murder/suicide. I am in shock. I can only imagine what that family is going through. I am friends with the parents of the woman who died, and I don’t know what to do. What do I say at a time like this?

Signed,

No Words

Dear No Words,

I’m so sad to hear this news about your friends’ family. The despair must have been so incredibly deep – a darkness so overwhelming and destructive. Those left behind can only ask, “Why?”

They may not find the answer for a while, if at all. Please know it isn’t your job to answer that question. Your role is to stand with your friends in their pain – to witness, affirm, and hand over the Kleenex. They are confused and feeling a terrifying pain. They are trying hard to make sense of this – probably losing sleep and appetite in the process. It’s a kind of digging going on – a physical and emotional stripping away – searching for an answer, and peace.

And, perhaps you feel distressed, as well. You want to give them safe harbor, yet you’re shaken and confused by these enormous events, and searching for answers, too. How can we be strong for another when we’re shaking to our core? In my experience, grace flows best when I get out of the way. Your question is an opening to grace. You want to be a conduit of it to your friends, and yet you’re frozen by your sense of inadequacy. All you really must do is show up. Be there for your friends. Check in with them regularly. Your calls, texts, and visits don’t have to be long or filled with meaning. The effort will let them know they are not alone. It is enough.

Keep in regular contact as life returns to normal. Right now, they are inundated with arrangements, family, etc. But, the weeks to come will be the most difficult for them. They will draw such strength from your loving attention.

All the while, take care of yourself. It is a bit terrifying to stand so close to such pain. Please take time to fill your own reserves through prayer and meditation, rest, healthy food, exercise. As you tend to yourself, so will you be able to care for your friends.

You are a good friend.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen

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