A Book Review: "Alongside" by Sarah Beckman

by Sandra Foreman February 26, 2017

“We often rush to actions or words when someone is suffering (or do nothing for fear of doing the wrong thing). Instead, rush to be that welcome ear, listening when most others will not. Especially for those who are grieving. Pay attention to the signs if they don’t want to talk, but don’t be afraid of the tears that come with words.”

I recently read Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial by Sarah Beckman. This book provides practical tips for people who want to show love and support to their family, friends, neighbors, or acquaintances faced with life’s many trials. However, depending on the relationship, people are uncertain of what to do or what to say. For this reason, I believe people will find “Alongside” to be a useful resource.

Not only does Sarah Beckman provide tips based on her experiences of helping others going through trials, but she also provides advice based on her research with patients, survivors, family members, and others who have gone through a personal crisis.  An essential key to how one might help is to determine the relationship one has with the person going through the struggle. She identifies the relationships in tier categories and makes recommendations accordingly throughout the book. Another foundational element is to remember that the trial in question is not about the person who wants to offer assistance. This concept is also woven throughout the book. I agree that this is essential, so that people, whether done knowingly or not, do not make the situation about themselves.

Regardless of the relationship one has with the person going through a crisis, the art of being present and listening are loving acts that anyone can offer. In “Alongside,” Sarah Beckman relates the Bible story of how Job’s three friends comforted him during his time of suffering by simply being present for seven days and nights: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Job 2:13.

Like many, I’ve experienced a few trials in my life that have prompted family and friends to offer their assistance. When those trials were fresh and deeply felt, like Job, talking was the last thing I wanted to do. The energy required to discuss a tragic situation can be overwhelming and simply unwanted. So, having a loved one present was more than enough for me. Or, when I did want to talk, it was refreshing to simply release those emotions without being analyzed or questioned.

The toolbox of tips in “Alongside” is astounding. For example, some people find it uneasy to mention a loved one that has passed away to the person who has suffered the loss. Of course, it’s important to respect your friend’s or family’s journey. However, don’t assume it will always be painful to discuss the person that has passed away. There could be so many happy memories that the family and friend would enjoy sharing. Don’t rob them of this opportunity to share a loving moment with you if they open up to you in this way. “Alongside” also provides a listing of websites for organizing ways to help with meals, chores, etc. Other websites include information to keep family and friends updated. However, the point is well made not to utilize these resources if the person going through the trial wants to maintain her privacy. Always ask for permission before publishing such personal information in any format.

“Alongside” has taught me there is a role that one can play in loving friends, family, and neighbors during difficult moments. Instead of offering the typical, “I’m sorry for your loss,” this book provides sound ways to help. It also provides tips on what not to do or say. This book reduces the guesswork out of how to help and reduces the anxiety of feeling like you’re walking on a tightrope when interacting with someone with personal struggles. You will find a sound tip that works for you while showing love and comfort to the people that matter to you.


Sandra Foreman
Sandra Foreman


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