How to Comfort People Dealing with Tragedy

Sad to say, tough times are part of our everyday lives. Even if everything is going well with us personally, chances are that a friend or family member is struggling.

The darkest time in my life came when my husband, Don Piper, author of "90 Minutes in Heaven," was involved in a catastrophic car wreck with an 18-wheeler in 1989. He was pronounced dead at the scene only to be revived 90 minutes later. Thirty-four surgeries followed, and he was in the hospital for the next 105 days and then in and out of the hospital for the next two years.

Since then, I have experienced other dark times, but the lessons I learned while helping nurse Don back to health have stayed with me. I not only learned how to cope with tragedy, I learned how to encourage others who were dealing with tragedies of their own.

Here's what I learned about how to be a friend in tough times:

· Don't be afraid to touch. An embrace can often speak more, comfort more and convey more love than the wisest or most profound words. There's something powerful about one human being touching another, and it draws us to each other.

· Do things without asking. People often say, "Please call if you need anything." People who don't know which way to turn or which voice to heed aren't going to call anyone else. They simply stumble forward. Those who did the most for me were the ones who simply acted without asking. Once they discerned a need, they took over and did what they could.

· Ask caregivers how they are doing. They hear those words often enough, but sometimes they don't hear concern in the voices asking the question. Asked correctly, that question can sustain a caregiver in a difficult time.

· Be willing to listen. When a person has been in a hospital room for days and days, what he or she really needs is someone to listen. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but visitors didn't do as much listening to me after Don's accident as I did to them. Ask questions and show you care.

· Think before you speak. Don't complain, criticize, or act judgmentally. Be sensitive to the fact that those sitting by the patient (or even the patient) have about as much as they can handle. Don't overwhelm them with your problems. They have enough of their own.

· Don't overstay your welcome. Visiting a hospital room isn't the same as being a guest in someone's home. The best guests make their presence known, express their concern, and leave quickly.

· Be a long-term friend. People tend to stop visiting after a few weeks. When I speak in public, I encourage people to mark their calendars or put a reminder on their phones or computers to check in on those they know are in a long-term dark place.

All of us face the darkness, and we do so at the most unexpected times. But no one should have to walk through the dark alone, and you can help your friends and family emerge on the other side.

Eva Piper is the author of "A Walk through the Dark: How My Husband's 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened My Faith for a Lifetime."