When a friend is grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s easy to feel helpless. Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing by trying to cheer them up, pointing out the positives or letting them know that they should try to move on. Well-intentioned as we may be, those efforts tend to put pressure on them and leave them feeling invalidated.
So here are eight ways to help you support your friend in times of need.
Let go of time expectations. The person grieving may struggle for longer than expected. If this happens, regardless of how frustrating or frightening it may be for you, let them grieve for however long they need, knowing you won’t judge them for it.
Recognize the stages of grief. Most people suffering a loss will go through these stages, often in no particular order and sometimes repeating stages: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. Each one is healthy and necessary. The more familiar you are with these stages, the better equipped you’ll be to support your friend.
Variables to grief. One person’s grief is never the same as another’s. Variables include the cause and length of death, the personal resiliency of the grieving person, what their previous experiences have been, how large their support network is and their relationship to the person lost. Be understanding of how this can change their experience of grief from your own or someone else you have known.
Resist telling them how strong they are. We are often inclined to praise the person who appears to be coping stoically with a loss. The problem is that we need to allow them to be human and vulnerable sometimes too. After all, there’s strength in letting out your emotions from time to time.
Offer the bereaved ways to memorialize. Funerals and memorial services work to give support and closure to the bereaved. We can also memorialize in other ways, like planting trees, writing letters or having remembrance gatherings.
Ask them what they need. It’s normal to feel you can guess what your friend needs based on what you might need in their position. Because we’re all different, it is best to ask them what it is that you can do for them. If they say “I don’t know” or “nothing,” resist the desire to walk away in your frustration or worry. Just offer your support in whatever way you can and let them know that you will be there when they think of something.
Continue to check in on them. At the time of a funeral, many people offer help and support to the grieving person. As the weeks and months pass everyone’s lives move forward and they generally forget to follow up on their offerings of help and support. Be the person who follows up. You don’t have to give all of your energy, but your caring will be appreciated and will provide untold comfort.
Recommend help. There is only so much that a friend or family member can offer to someone who is grieving without putting too much strain on themselves. Gently suggest seeking therapeutic help to give them a special place to cope with their loss.
Finally, keep in mind that loss is not just felt through death. It can be the loss of a job, a divorce, the loss of an ideal or expectation and so much more. Loss is a difficult thing to work through and your role as a supporter is both unique and vital.
Author: Kate Evans