I often call myself an introvert. And this is what I mean by that:
After being around people, I need time to just be still and quiet.
I am constantly analyzing myself and other’s response to me. An ongoing conversation in my head goes something like this: How am I coming across right now? How will this statement make that person feel? If I respond to this text right now, will they expect this to turn into a long conversation I just don’t have the energy for at the moment?
This is exhausting!
I need time alone to recharge and also to sort through all the thoughts in my mind. I love people. I love good conversations. But I crave alone time.
When I lost my son, the world changed. I changed in many ways. But at my core I was still the same introverted person.
And I think it was confusing for quite a few people who really loved me and wanted to be supportive for me, but had no clue what it was I needed from them.
I know all grief is different, and I know all people are different. But my hope is to give a few basic thoughts to help those of you that love an introvert who is grieving.
- Don’t Expect Them to Fall Apart in Front of You
After the death of my son, people often asked me how I was doing. That’s a natural question. I wasn’t offended by the question.
But my answer to that question was almost always vague. “We’re doing okay.” Or “God is my strength”.
And then I was often left with this feeling that I was letting them down with my answer. I got this feeling that people wanted me to fall apart and share my deepest fears and feelings with them at the drop of a hat. Or at the drop of a simple question.
That is simply not me.
A week after Beckett passed away, I poured all my emotions into a public blog post that anyone in the world was welcome to read. I cried while writing it, I cried many times reading it later. It was my heart, my true emotions laid out bare.
Writing that post was my way of processing my emotions and also my way of answering the question, “How are you doing?” It was exhausting.
So in the following weeks, when someone asked how I was doing, I really wanted to tell them to go read about it themselves, I did not have the emotional energy to go through all that again!
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to let them in on how I was feeling, it was that I really could not physically bring myself to go through the emotions verbally over and over again.
Please don’t take it personal when your introverted friend doesn’t open up to you about their grief. I mean it when I say: It’s not you, it’s me. Go ahead and keep asking the question, just be prepared to quickly move on if they make it clear they don’t want to dwell.
- Don’t Apologize for Falling Apart in Front of Them.
I am not very emotional in front of people. I don’t know if this is an “introvert” thing or just a “Rebekah” thing. I have often felt envious of my softhearted friends. These women see a photograph of an orphan and are suddenly a sobbing mess. They hear a sad story on the radio and they can’t even repeat the story to you because they are so choked up.
As a woman in ministry, I have often sat across from a woman crying over the state of her marriage, her rebellious children, her mess in life and prayed that God would just make my eyes squeeze out at least one tear so I wouldn’t appear so heartless.
Try as I might to change it, I am just a weird crier. But this doesn’t mean that it upsets me when other people cry in front of me.
Many times in the first months after losing Beckett, my friends would begin crying when they hugged me or talked about him. And then they would inevitably apologize.
Please don’t apologize for grieving over someone else’s loss! It shows you love them, it shows you care.
- When They Start to Talk—Don’t Stop Them!
Grief is a weird thing. It often shows up when we least expect it. Your friend might have some feelings and thoughts they need to process and they don’t even realize it until the conversation is started and the words come spilling out.
I often bring Beckett up in the middle of a non-related conversation. I am sitting and talking with a friend over coffee and my thoughts just start spilling out. I feel comfortable, I feel safe and I let my guard down.
If you want to be a safe place for your introvert friend to talk about their grief, be a safe place for them to talk about life in general.
Last year, on what would have been Beckett’s first birthday, I told my friend I was going to come by her house in the morning. Neither of us knew what that day would be like for me, but she was willing to put up with whatever I felt like on the day. I needed to go to a place where there would be no expectations placed on me.
I knew this friend’s house was the place to go because it had been the place to go for the past year. I had sat on her couch with a cup of coffee balanced on my pregnant belly and talked about motherhood many times. I had sat with that baby in my arms and talked about tired newborn life.
Then when my world changed in an instant, she was the one that held me in her arms as the paramedic took my baby from mine. The one that opened her home when I couldn’t face going back to mine. The one that saw me fall apart and didn’t expect a thing in return. The one that never had to ask me how I was doing, but always listened when I told her anyway.
Fortunately, I can say this about many friends not just one. I know I can text my parents and tell them to pray and they do without needing a lot of background. I tell my husband I’m having a hard day and he pulls me into his arms without a question. I cancel dinner plans with only a few hours notice and our friends understand without a complaint.
Then at other times I start talking and they just let me go. They don’t try to tell me how I should feel or drag more out of me than I am comfortable giving. They just listen and tell me they love me.
I have pretty great friends.
- Let Them Know You Have No Expectations
In the first days and weeks, many people asked what we needed and said to let them know what they could do to help.
I had no idea what I needed. I had no idea what people could do to help. But suddenly this felt like a job to me. I needed to give people something to do so they would feel like they were helping. I took it as my responsibility to make sure they felt useful.
I know this sounds messed up. I am aware it is not at all what those people intended to happen. They genuinely wanted to help and would hate to think that put stress on me.
We had several friends that just stepped in and did things for us without asking and without making it a big deal. That is what I needed.
I needed to know there were no expectations on me as a friend to include other people in my grief.
- Offer Non-Contact Support
I have listed several things not to do so I thought I would end with some practical things you could do to show you care.
The thought of making plans for a person, even a close friend, to come over to my house just to sit with me terrified me in the first phases of grief. Planning ahead of time meant I had to mentally prepare for what the conversation might be. I had to use energy to sit and talk and come up with conversation or process through my emotions out loud. I did not want to make plans to get together with people.
But if someone dropped by with a gift, that would be totally okay. That feels selfish to say, but it’s the truth.
I love hugs. I love feeling connected without a lot of words. A small gift and a hug at the door can be a huge encouragement without forcing your friend to use a lot of energy socially.
If you have trouble thinking of something to give, try one of these:
— A hand written letter or card. If letter writing is not your thing, don’t stress yourself out trying to come up with the perfect words. Just buy a card and sign your name. It really is the thought that counts.
— A journal. Many introverts process their thoughts by writing. I obviously fit into this category. Plus I love stationary and office supplies—Win/Win!
— Coffee. Give a mug with a scripture verse on it, inspirational saying or cute design. You could also buy some nice tea or specialty coffee they can make at home. Or skip the at-home stuff and get them a gift card to go out for coffee with a note that you hope they enjoy some time out and an offer to tag along if they wish. You have offered a listening ear in a non-committal way.
— Small Personal Gift. You know your friend. What will make them remember their loved one? A piece of jewelry? A figure or box to set out? A picture frame? What is something small and personal that shows you actually took time to think about them and the loved one they lost?
— Massage or Spa Treatment. This is a bigger gift financially, but would a gift card for a massage be relaxing and welcome for your friend? I love to lie in a dark room and not make conversation for an hour. My mind actually goes quiet during a massage.
— A Cleaning Service. The entire first year I was grieving my son, I constantly felt behind on household responsibilities. I just wanted someone to come over and clean my house and do my laundry. But I didn’t want to ask anyone to come over and clean my house and do my laundry because I did not want to have to make small talk with them while they worked, and I was too prideful to admit I needed help in this area.
Thankfully I have an amazing husband who starts cleaning when he has no idea how to help me. There were many months he kept our household functioning and took a lot of pressure off of me. If your friend lives alone or their partner isn’t super clean, chances are they are in dire need of some practical cleaning help.
If you can’t afford to pay for a cleaning service, give them that gift card for a coffee shop, send them out of the house, and clean while they are away. For $5 they are getting some alone time and you can give them some practical help.
— Prayer. Seriously. This is the greatest gift I have received in the past eighteen months. I have had friends pray over me in-person, but our family has had an army of people praying for us throughout the world. And we feel it. It’s not last on this list because it’s the least you can do, it’s last because I want it to be the one that sticks in your head the longest. If you are a praying person, pray for your friend.
These thoughts have actually sat in my computer for months and I have struggled to finish writing them and post it. It’s not because I’m an introvert and I’m analyzing how they will be taken. I have an internal battle with this post because, regardless of everything I have just said, I really don’t love labels. I love discussing personality type. (I’m an enneagram 5 and an INFJ if you want to comment on that below!) But I get frustrated when people excuse their behavior behind a personality type. Ironic? Probably.
The bottom line: give your friends grace to be themselves when they are grieving.
Don’t expect someone to react the way you would, and don’t expect them to react the way an article on the internet says their personality type should react.
God has created us unique and complex. And I believe we are the most helpful when we give people the space and the encouragement to be that person that God created them to be.
Have you experienced grief? What is something someone has done for you or given you that has helped you? I would love to read your comment below and hear your thoughts.