How to Help a Grieving Friend

I am 24 and in the past 6 years I’ve had 7 loved ones pass away, been to  5 funerals, and cried more tears than I have in my whole lifetime.  This Tuesday I am going to my grandma’s funeral, my 6th funeral in 6 years.

Today I was talking to my mom about Grandma and realized the difference between offering to be there for a grieving friend and actually being there.

I see my mom’s friends not just offering to be a listening ear but they actually make a phone call.  I see them delivering food rather than just offering to help.  Instead of simply offering condolences via Facebook they are bringing her flowers.

I know is most people younger than 25-years-old haven’t experienced the death of a loved one so how could they possibly know how to comfort someone who is grieving?  This post is for anyone who wants to know how to be an AMAZING friend to someone in mourning.

  1. Make a phone call.  Facebook condolences are fantastic but there is very little effort in doing that.  It means the world to be cared for enough to have a friend reach out personally.
  2. Send a handwritten letter.  I have always been a big advocate for handwritten letters.  I know there is something so special about them in this age of emails, texts, and junk mail.  I especially learned the value of this when I stared sending my late grandma postcards and writing her letters.  She looked forward to my letters and loved them so much that she would bring every one of them with her every time she was going to see my mom to show off the latest card she received.
  3. Ask to meet up.  A friend that reaches out with a note or a phone call is a wonderful friend.  But there is nothing like having someone come over to your house and hug you, cry with you, and let you talk about the memory of the one you lost.  With an empty house, all I wanted the day I found out about my grandma dying was for someone to come over to my house and hold me.
  4. Be a good listener.  Sometimes your friend will want to talk about what they are feeling, what their loved one was like, and what they are experiencing.  All you have to do is listen.  If they start crying hold them and get them tissue.  Don’t be afraid to allow for space and silence so they can keep dwelling on what their feeling unless they change the subject.
  5. Send some flowers to your friends house.  My mom has received flowers from friends, in-laws, and even a business colleague she hasn’t met face-to-face yet.
  6. Send some flowers to the funeral.  It was so meaningful seeing so many floral and plant gifts at my grandpa’s funeral.
  7. Send a gift.  You could drop off some brownies, send a teddy bear, bring them a latte or a bottle of wine, have a locket made with their loved one’s picture in it… anything thoughtful really.  Your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive, in this case it really is the thought that counts.  With my grandpa’s passing I got to be here to witness Pam bring our family communion, Karen gave my mom a handmade necklace with my grandpa’s picture superimposed, several bouquets of flowers arrived at their doorstep, Amy gave my mom a penny with a heart cut out of the middle, Steve and Jenny gave us an eternal lantern, Leanne and Bev gave wind chimes with a beautiful inscription (“Walter ‘Bud’ Hammond 1931-2011 His charming ways and smiling face are a pleasure to recall.  He had a kindly word for each and died beloved by all.”)
  8. Give them a gift card to a restaurant or something fun.  It’s a crazy time and sometimes it’s simply the best to get away from it all for a little while and enjoy a free meal out or to take in a movie.
  9. Bring them a meal.  Often times with grieving the structure of a human mind is a complete fog and all apetite goes away.  Without the desire to eat no food is made and with a mind so foggy the mind is mostly incompetent to cooking anything anyway.
  10. Attend the funeral.  If someone close to you lost a loved one perhaps one of the biggest gifts you can give is honoring your friend and their loved one’s memory by attending the funeral   Last year at my grandpa’s funeral most of my dad’s side of the family, all of my mom’s best college girlfriends, and my cousin’s best friend came to the funeral.  I remember feeling so taken care of and surrounded by love because of this simple act of solidarity.
  11. Give money to the cause presented in the obituary.  Usually this cause has something to do with the way the loved one died.
  12. Offer to clean their house.  In this season there are a lot of visitors coming in and out of the house and/or lots of arrangements being made so household cleaning falls by the wayside.
  13. Deliver groceries.  Similarly to household cleaning, common tasks like taking the trash out and going grocery shopping don’t happen.  Taking care of menial tasks allows the family some more time and space to either take care of funeral arrangements, grieve, and readjust to a new sort of life.
  14. Say “I’m so sorry.”  So many people don’t know what to say.  I know it’s uncomfortable but all you really need to say is “I’m so sorry” and give them a big, wrap-your-arms-around-and-squeeze hug.  If they cry, hold them firmly until they stop.  If you have more time with them or want to say more simply ask questions about the lost loved one.  What were they like?  What are some of your favorite memories with your grandma?  Please don’t ask “Oh, were you close?”  I’ve found that whenever I’m asked that I feel like
  15. “I’d like to help lighten your load, what can I do?”  “What can I do to help?” is also worlds different than “let me know how I can help.”  The former ilicits a response and the latter is more generic and unreachable.  The latter is the kind of thing everyone says, sometimes hoping the person they say it to never actually asks for help.  I’ve had so many kind offers from friends that sound something like, “let me know how I can help.” It’s a very sweet offer but I find I don’t feel I can actually take friends up on a statement like that.  I still feel like I would be a burden or a nuisance or an annoyance to actually ask for help.
  16. Help bear the burden of the bad news.  My mom has been the chief of all news and, thus, her phone doesn’t stop ringing.  A great way to help your friend through their difficult time would be to personally help make phone calls to pass along the news and give the funeral/memorial service information.  You can even start a calling tree and rally some more friends to help make the calls to lessen the burden of the bereaved.
  17. Give money.  Sometimes families are left with outrageous funeral expenses or medical bills and will go into debt without help.  By giving the gift of money directly to the family you are enabling them to stay afloat and are helping relieve another stressor.

On a final note, the best words spoken to me in my time of grieving my grandpa were right before his funeral.  All the family was gathered in the foyer when my father-in-law, George Calhoun, told us all something like “let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.”  The idea behind that statement is that everyone grieves differently and it’s too easy to feel like you have to be crying all day every day and, heaven forbid, you laugh at all.

My Grandma Went Home to Jesus


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A couple of weeks ago I made a last-minute trip up to Minnesota to see my Grandma.  After I was informed she was stopping her dialysis treatment and moving into hospice I was desperate to connect with her one last time.  With a little extra push from my hubby I made the 7 hour trip, or 8 hours in this case since I drove through snow on the way up, and got to visit with her a couple of times before I had to head back home to shoot a wedding.  (CLICK HERE for the full story about that trip.)

On Friday Grandma took a turn for the worse.  My mom called asking me to pray hard because she had gotten the call that Grandma was at her end and, if she wanted to be there to say goodbye, she had to get there right away.  With a 45 minute drive ahead of her my mom was desperate for some divine intervention so she could make it in time.

After calling Josh and praying with him and sending a quick text to my small group pleading for prayer, I got on my knees and prayed as hard as I’ve ever prayed.  I prayed for my mom to get to Grandma on time but I mostly prayed that God would claim my Grandma as one of His own before she breathed her last.  This was a common prayer for me in the last couple of years but never so desperately and fervently

As I prayed God kept talking over me.  When I finally was quite for a moment all I heard him say was “Kaia, stop praying for this, I already have her in the palm of my hand.  She is one of my own.”  My heart soared and I was filled with such peace and hope.

My mom did make it in time that day and my Grandma decided she wasn’t done with life yet.

On Monday, February 25 at around 6:30 am my strong-willed and spunky grandma breathed her last.  I awoke at 7:30 am to a voicemail from my dad with that news and my heart was so glad that she was finally safely home and no longer in pain.  As I listened through the voicemail I was given this beautiful vision of my white-haired, though obviously healthy, smiling Grandma.  It was a smile free of pain and struggle and a face so full of life and peace and love and joy.  She truly was so beautiful!  I really loved my grandma and my heart grieves that I can’t share and laugh with her anymore but I am so excited to see her again when I get to travel to paradise.

Today I am home in Minnesota again to spend time with my now orphaned mom and help her in any way I can.  We have planned the funeral for Tuesday, March 5, 2013 and, by the grace of God, my hubby is able to make it (he is currently on tour with Big Daddy Weave and Chris August so the fact that he can break away is amazing) AND do the music AND my father-in-law so graciously agreed to make the long trek up to the service.  God is so good!

Thank you all so much for your prayers, support, and encouragement.  We can feel the strength and peace that we are being given from your prayers!  You are a blessing!

To Grandmother’s House I Went

Some of you friends have been very faithful in prayer on behalf of my grandma and I thank you so much for your support in that!

I suddenly had enough of fretting about her situation in my empty house and resolved to set my sails to Minnesota to be sure I got to see her.  I decided last Tuesday evening, prepped myself all day Wednesday, and was finally on the road at around 6pm.  I should have waited until morning.

Ordinarily I avoid driving in the night at all costs.  In this case I was bent on getting there ASAP so I not only drove in the dark but I started my drive in the dark.  And then, about halfway through my drive, snow hit.  With the pitch black blanket of midnight sky cast by nighttime darkness and thick cloud cover my headlights seemed to barely pierce the endless darkness around me.  It was so dark that, for the first time in my life, I was actually grateful for light pollution when I came upon some because I could actually navigate my tires into and safely along the lone pair of treads set before me – there was not a snow plow in sight and the snow was only getting heavier so the freeway was covered with one thick snow blanket.  At one point I contemplated just pulling over and sleeping in the car until the snow passed, or until a snow plow came through, or until morning but I’m as much of a stubborn Norwegian as my grandma so I kept at it.

I passed five cars swallowed by ditches, nearly got sideswiped by an over-confident semi truck driver, and added an extra hour or so to my already 7 hour drive but I made it.

The next morning I awoke to coffee time with Mom and then we headed to visit Grandma.  I was hopeful in going to see her because only a couple of days before my mom told me how Grandma said something like this, “those who believeth and are baptized will be saved.”  Up until this point I thought my grandma was intentionally as far from finding God as possible.  I can’t say whether she has asked Jesus to be Lord over her life, though hopefully I will find that out soon, I can say that knowing she quoted scripture gave me hope that if she didn’t already she might be much more up for it than I thought!

My time with Grandma was lovely and gave me peace.  Honestly, my Grandma is a hoot to hang with.  We talked a lot about Josh, I think she has a little crush on him ;), and I tried to get her to tell me stories from her childhood.

On the last day I was home I went to visit her by myself.  I brought the dogs and Josh’s music so she could meet my furry kiddos and hear some rough cuts of Citizen Way’s new album coming out in the next couple months.  She was amused by my pups until Sam tried to snuggle one too many times and drew blood on her fragile skin with his persistently knife-like claws.  So I put them away and put the music on.  She reclined and listened intently to every tune I played for her.  I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have possibly understood the lyrics but I was praying all the while that the words would sink into her heart anyway.  After she tired of music we chatted. At one point she dozed off and she was so still that I thought she died right in front of me!  But, just before I asked Gene, her 24 hour caregiver, for help, Grandma spoke again behind me.  Thank the Lord!  I was so freaked!

Before I left I asked if I could pray for Grandma.  “Oh yeah!” she said.  A much more enthusiastic response than I expected so my heart fluttered even more hopefully for her.  After the prayer and a gentle, awkward stooping hug and said goodbye.  I said “I love you Grandma” and she said “drive safe” (she doesn’t say “I love you”) and that’s all I know for now.

I have written her a postcard and called her since but I have nothing else major to report.  She is gradually but surely declining daily in health as the toxins seep into her blood but she’s a tough old lady and is hanging in there.  I’m still so hopeful I will get to see her at least one more time when I go up in about a week for a ski trip with my brother.

Continue praying for her salvation until I find out for sure whether or not she professes Jesus Christ as her savior but please also pray for her pain and that she can keep a sound mind until I know for sure she’s in God’s hands 🙂


The flowers are the Valentines flowers we got her 🙂

Musings of a Musician’s Wife: Remembering

THE BEGINNING On Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 7:29pm I had a four-minute phone call with my mom that left me sobbing for the remainder of my drive home.  Her story was of the grim outlook on my grandma’s health situation.  So grim, in fact, that my mom isn’t certain if she’ll make it to Christmas.  The instant wave of grief shook me to the core and brought all my loss from the past five years flooding in from the hidden crevices of my brain.  An iron first started clenching my heart like it was some sick game to see how much pain I could handle.


It was my freshman year of college when I felt my first loss.  I was a mere two months into the semester when my friend Sam got into a car accident involving a semi that ultimately claimed his life only one short week later.  I remember so many crystal clear moments between the night after the accident and the end of that semester.

I remember the first phone call.  I remember the phone call.  I remember making a road trip to Colorado with Robb, Jimmy, and Josh with our last-minute trip change to end us in Minnesota for Sam’s funeral.  I remember on specific moment of paralyzing sadness.

Sam was a fun-loving young man with bouncing brown curly hair, a contagious, room-filling laugh, a huge heart to serve, and the biggest and brightest wide-mouthed smile.  Sam loved the Lord.


I was halfway around the world and halfway through my spring semester as a sophomore when I got a call from Kelsey Telling me our friend, Tony, hung himself in a bedroom closet at a party.

I couldn’t make it back from Africa for the funeral.

Tony Had the air of California surfer dude, playing it chill all day every day, but with long brown hair and a guitar rather than a surf board.  I sift through my plethora of memories hoping to pull one out that would bring me peace about Tony’s eternity but instead I am left regretting never having led him to the Lord myself.


I don’t remember how I was told.  But I know that my first news was that Ben was missing.  The story is that he was camping with a group of friends when he randomly boarded a canoe and paddled out into the darkness of night.  After a few long days of searching they found him at the bottom of the lake.

Josh and I traveled to Minnesota once again for another funeral.

Ben was shy around me at first due to a crush but I found him inclined to let me fill up the space with as many or as few words as I needed.  He was a brilliant writer with long, spirally orange locks and a persistent twinkle in his eye.


We moved into the lower apartment of Rick’s house the summer after Josh and I wed.  That November we found out Rick was sick with Esophageal and Liver cancer.  His footsteps upstairs grew sparse then went quiet.  That’s when we found out Rick was admitted to the hospital.

I visited unannounced and on a whim one day.  My heart longed to know Rick found the Lord before his end.  I wrote him a letter and brought it up to his room with me.  His dad was there and the shadow of a man lying in the hospital bed was almost unrecognizable – he looked like a concentration camp victim.  That was the last time I saw Rick.

Less than a week later Josh and I trekked out to Romeoville for the funeral.  It broke my heart because there were only about 20 people there and the couple of people who shared words didn’t actually have much to say.

Rick believed he was a lost cause and he was so full of regret he thought himself far from love and unforgivable.  He was a determined strong man both in will and in strength but he also had a loving soft spot that I got a little slice of every now and then.  His wrinkled face told of the life of battle and loss and regret but his blue eyes clung to kindness.

YEAR FIVE:  Grandpa Bud

Josh and I got a call from my mom that Grandpa was at his end.  We packed up immediately and hit the long 7 hour road.  In the end we missed Grandpa by 20 minutes.

About a week later Josh and I sang at the funeral.

Grandpa Bud was a gentle loving and giving old man.  Many spoke of his legacy of generosity but what I loved most about him was his stark white hair, boyish grin, and the way he always called me “love.”

YEAR SIX:  Tundra

My childhood best friend left me this fall.  Just a week or so before I got to see her and that experience alone broke my heart.  She could barely breathe but she didn’t know it so in her excitement of seeing me she nearly coughed up a lung.

Even then I had known it was the last time I would snuggle my first baby.  I still remember visiting the litter of puppies with my heart full of promise.  Tundra won my over instantly.  She was too shy, scared, and quiet for anyone else but found something safe in me.  I grew up telling her all of my growing pain and cried, many a time, into her fluffy white mane.

Tundra was an emotional dog with a lot of love to give and a permanent smile.

THE END The hardest part of any loss is the aching hole left by the love longing to reach out to the one lost.  I guess on the brink of another loss I find the need to reflect on all of it.  Death is only a part of the pattern of life.  But my heart so longs for the certainty that all of my loved ones are founded in faith so I can await sharing in the heavenly celebration with them.

My friend Mr. Caterpillar

I met a caterpillar in my tomatos a couple weeks back.  My first thought was… “I found her in my garden today! That’s a lot of babies…”

But them I came to understand a horrifying truth. The poor little bugger was being eaten from the inside out.  These “eggs” were actually the cocoons of braconid wasps.  They come to be through momma’s long, stingerlike ovipositor.  She simply uses this like a syringe and inserts her eggs into and unsuspecting host such as this caterpillar.  The reason why these eggs survive so easy:  she also deposits a hormone that screws with the hosts immune system, leaving the eggs undetected and unharmed until they hatch and start reeking havoc on the poor creatures body.  First target, the “non vital” organs.  They eat all of these up then make their way through the skin to form their cocoons.  By eating only the non vital organs the host is left perfectly alive and fresh until the cocoons are ready and then the hornets invade for the final feast. The host is literally eaten from the inside out because of a long, twisted course of reproduction.  I think I’m supposed to think that “it’s all a part of the circle of life,” but I hate meanies, especially when they’re attacking an innocent bystander, and I hate wasps.  So, when I realized this was not a reproductive display of caterpillar eggs, but, rather, a horrific reproductive method that makes way for more wasps my roommate, Jesse, and I took action. When I revisited the caterpillar it was in no better condition.  It appeared that some more larva were exiting and intending on creating their nest.

Our course of action:  to spray the whole parade with indoor insect killer.  The caterpillar sprung to life, we had assumed it was long gone, so we quickly switched gears after all the parasitoids were off… hose it off with water.

We drenched the little guy and even wiped him off with a paper towel.  We wanted to keep a close eye on him so we created an ice cream bucket home  and tossed in some leaves.  My evening got worse.  I watched him struggle through the night until he was no longer mobile at midnight.  I spent the evening performing a sort of surgery:  whenever a larva poked out, I grabbed it with some tweezers and flushed it down the sink.  However, the string was seemingly endless… until he died.

This small creature and incident of natural reproduction scarred me for several days.  I fell in love with that beautifully green and intriguing caterpillar.  I came to wonder how these hellish braconid wasps came to be.  I questioned God and his creativity.  Is it possible that he created them and put them on this earth to destroy these pretty caterpillars from the inside out?  Or is it possible that he created the wasps and then Satan dabbled into their make up to create the gruesome destroyer of life?  I suppose these are just more questions I have to leave be, maybe one day I’ll understand, in the mean time I guess I just have to trust that He knows what He’s doing up there.