friends Posts

Being a Friend When Someone Has Experienced a Loss


When Judy and I lost our 5 ½-year-old son Kyle, we were shocked and numb for several weeks. During that time, and through many conversations with others in the last 37 years, we have learned some of the best – and worst – practices for being a friend to someone who has experienced loss.

Loss comes in many shapes and sizes. From losing a child to losing a spouse, through death or divorce, from losing your health to losing a job, all these are forms of loss that call for our friendship to step up to another level of care and compassion.

As we think about being a friend, let’s think about what we go through in our heads and hearts as we contemplate helping someone who has lost. We want to do something that will really help, but are at a loss as to what that might be. What would really help is to undo the loss in the first place, but in most cases that is impossible. So what do we do that would be meaningful? We must resist the temptation to think that anything we say will make them feel better or “fix” the situation.

Within a week of losing Kyle, we had comments from well meaning friends who were trying to use words to make it all better. We heard everything from, “Well at least he’s in heaven” to “God must have known that he would have made your life miserable later on and was sparing you that grief.” We were glad for the assurance that our son was in heaven, but we would rather have had him with us right now. And we would have much rather have had a son, alive, even if he did make some bad choices later in life that would have been painful for him and us.

Words can bring some comfort in the midst of the pain, but they can never fix the pain one suffers in loss. Comforting words may include “I’m so sorry” or “My heart is aching for you right now” or “If I can do anything at all, please tell me. Can I…?” Don’t take over and become a bossy cow in the person’s life, but genuinely be there for them and with them, willing to do whatever.

The two people who helped the most right after we lost Kyle were very different, but both made a real impact. One dear friend just took the initiative, went to the store and bought some diapers for Eric, another of our sons, who was 2 ½ and in the hospital fighting for his life. He too had drowned, but was able to be resuscitated. Then she offered to take Bryan, our 3 ½ year old, to her house while we stayed overnight in the hospital.

Another dear friend came to the hospital to see me in the middle of the night. I was sitting in the hallway on the floor, reliving the horrors of that day over and over in my head. And my heart was aching from the reality that I would never see our son Kyle again in this life. Andy just sat next to me on the hallway floor. He put his arm around me and we just cried together. I’m not sure he ever said a single word in over two hours. He just sat and cried with me, and his presence meant the world to me in that moment.

One of the best things you can do is be a friend who is present and cares. Not a fixer. Be one who empathizes, not one who takes over and forces your help on someone else. Be one who says little, but loves greatly. It is your love, spoken or unspoken, that will mean the most to someone in their time of loss.[1]

[1] For more on this subject, consider my book, When Life Is Changed Forever: By the Death of Someone Near.

David’s Mighty Men: The Other Band of Brothers

The famous mini-series Band of Brothers is a dramatic and powerful depiction of Easy Company, the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, where the U.S. Army engaged in the retaking of Western Europe from entrenched German forces during WW2. These men became a band of brothers as they fought and died next to each other in order to achieve their mission. They had a great leader, but the key ingredient in this regiment was they had a bond that created a relational synergy that was unstoppable. It was an all-for-one, and one-for-all troop of men.

But long before Easy Company there was another famous band of brothers that will forever resonate in my heart and mind. This other band of brothers was David and his 37 mighty men. Near the end of King David’s life he records an amazing tribute, by name, to each of these 37 mighty men in 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

David has long been recognized as an amazing man, though not perfect by any stretch. He was loyal to God, never forsaking Him or following after other gods – a true rarity. He was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, personally and as the leader of his army. He was a brilliant strategist both of his army and of Israel, the nation God entrusted to his leadership.

Besides those strengths, David has repeatedly been used as an example of a leader. His leadership capabilities are clear. He was strong, decisive, willing to make the hard calls, fearless in the face of adversity and had a heart that beat faithfully after His God. The list could go on and on. I have often heard David described as a strong, Lone Ranger kind of leader, but nothing could be further from reality. As mentioned above, at the end of his life he basically says, “I couldn’t have done any of it without these men – men who were also strong, capable, loyal and faithful, men who gave up their own ambitions and desires to be part of my team, men who stood by me in thick and thin. We were a band of brothers that made it possible for my leadership to be effective.”

These were “warrior” men who repeatedly put their lives on the line for David, and the purposes God had for David and the nation of Israel. These were men who had each other’s backs, no matter what the cost. These men were not only loyal to David, but to each other – to the greatest extent. Except for one occasion, you will never see any of these men do anything against one of his brothers. The one exception is when King David has Uriah set up to be killed by the enemy so David could take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba as his own wife. This is the only black spot on this troop of comrades, and it can be said that this one betrayal of his brothers was the beginning of the end for David’s effectiveness as King over Israel.

Other than this instance, what you see in the Scriptures is a team of men who would die for David and each other, and David would die for them. Do you have people in your life that would be willing to die for you? And an even bigger question: are there people in your life you would be willing to die for?

Are you a leader that has bought into the Lone Ranger idea of leadership, that “it’s lonely at the top”? God never designed us to live life alone, whether leader or not. Lone Ranger leadership is a ploy of Satan to separate us from our band of brothers so we can be picked off easier. God’s people and God’s kind of leaders, like King David, have their mighty men, their band of brothers, so to speak. This is the kind of leadership that is unforgettable and powerful. This kind of leadership will leave an indelible mark on all who come near it.

I Am With You Always


After Jesus commissioned His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He made them an astounding promise: “…I am with you always….”[1]

Look at that promise more carefully. “I am.” Not I will be or I might be or I will try to be. Jesus is making a promise of His “I AM” presence, His abiding presence with us “always.” I remember reading that so many times and thinking of those words as throwaway words, like “see ya later.”

But when Jesus’ promise began to sink in deeper, it reminded me of an experience I had in fifth grade.