What to Say and Do after a Hug

Janice Singh   |   October 12, 2016 


Do you get uncomfortable around people who have suffered a significant loss – loss of a child, a parent, husband, friend or a loved one? Or even the loss of a dream, health, job or identity? Do you avoid looking into their teary eyes and asking them how they feel, when you know the answer is obvious, do you think, “what’s the point of asking?”

Do you avoid visiting families who have suffered a loss or perhaps you did pay a group visit and fulfilled your responsibility and then you gave them their “space”? Do you think you are better off asking others about the grieving person rather than asking the person directly, just so you might not upset the person who is already grieving?

Do you find yourself at loss of words when you are face to face with the person who is grieving? Have you ever asked yourself, what to say and do after a hug?

Five years ago our new born four day old daughter went to be with the Lord. She was our first born. From her name to baby clothes, from the list of guests for the baby shower to hand knitted gifts from friends were all ready. But she never made it home! My husband and I took time to grieve the loss of our baby girl. Our friends and family showered love in the form of meals, visits and prayers. As days turned into weeks, there was a unique grief that was added – my husband and I noticed a change in the behaviour of a few loved ones. We knew they loved us but something had changed. The conversations became uncomfortably short, not much eye contact and after a hug there would be a long awkward silence. A few didn’t even ask how we were doing.

Before our daughter’s death our home used to buzz with people but there came a time when weeks passed by and no one came. Short messages saying, “we’re praying for you” became frequent but no personal visits to let us know “what” they were praying for…

Please don’t get me wrong as there’s nothing wrong in sending a text message saying you’re praying for them or even giving space to people who need it  – as long as you do these with much love and wisdom and not just to avoid being uncomfortable.

A couple of years later I got the opportunity to openly ask a few close friends about their responses when our daughter died and I wasn’t surprised to hear the same answer from each one of them.  They said they didn’t know what to say and do after a hug. They loved us and wanted to help us but  they just didn’t know how. How true is that? I was like that too and I’m still learning.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Sadly, we weep once or twice with the person who is grieving, and then allow the person some “space” to weep. We swing like a pendulum and go to extremes. We either give so much time and space to the grieving person that the person is literally left all alone or we make it our mission to make the person happy again as fast as we can. We make sure we don’t let the person talk about the loss or even cry and sometimes we want the person to be magically restored back to “normal”. We fast forward the grieving period with quick fixes and a get busy or get past it attitude.

Suddenly the counsellor in us gets revived and all the best positive advice, verses, stories, experiences that we know gets showered upon the grieving person expecting  a quick result. I was offered one such advice in less than a month of my loss to get busy by planning another kid. I was also given a quick formula to get over my grief. The formula was called “just” – just confess your sins, just read your Bible daily, just stay close to God, just believe…such advice flowed in abundance. It was not wrong advice - we must confess our sins, read the Bible, believe and draw closer to God. But when these are all suggested as the solution to fix all the pain, the real purpose is defeated.

The Bible says,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

When a loved one goes through a season of weeping and mourning, allow that season to complete the course.

There’s more I can write on this topic and a LOT I need to learn but here are a few things I’ve learnt as to what to do and what not to do after a hug:

  • Allow the grieving person to cry for this is an outlet created by God. If crying, weeping or grieving was wrong the Bible wouldn’t have recorded that Jesus wept.
  • Your presence speaks more than words at times. It’s okay to be quiet; don’t push yourself to come up with a speech or encouraging words. At times words spoken at the wrong time do more damage than silence.
  • It’s good to know that grief has various stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). But remember that not all grieve the same way or in the same order. We’re all unique in our make. Don’t rush to cut short the grieving process. Each person takes different amount time to overcome grief. Be patient if the person is taking more time than the others.
  • It is okay to ask how he/she is doing. Even if you know they are hurting. A gentle follow-up can provide an unsaid comfort.
  • Avoid using words like “just” with your advice. Sometimes simple advice such as "just prayer", " just read your Bible" may sound repulsive to the grieving person even if they love God. Grief at times make people question God’s goodness. Allow them enough time to process the pain and remember it’s okay if they do question God’s goodness. Job questioned God too but after much questioning he came to a much deeper knowledge of God and experienced Him in a much closer way than before.
  • Be available when the crowd leaves. Immediately after a loss, many people come along to console but sadly all of them seem to leave at the same time. A week or 10 days later when the “new normal” begins, is when you should be available for support.

The Bible says, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), the mind of the wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace and the One who intercedes on our behalf. He is a generous giver and we can ask for wisdom to express our love towards those who grieve.

So don’t get uncomfortable with what to say and do after a hug, express your love and concern with the wisdom that comes only from God.

Photo Credit : Unsplash

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Janice Singh

Janice is a Marketing and Business Development Manager for a Christian International School. She enjoys baking and catching up with friends over hot-chocolate. She also enjoys running and is on the look out for healthy recipes to stay fit to serve God and His people.

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2 comments on “What to Say and Do after a Hug”

  1. "Immediately after a loss, many people come along to console but sadly all of them seem to leave at the same time." -> so true!

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