Grief is a challenging experience we all must endure. When a friend faces grief, it can leave us feeling powerless in our attempts to help them. What should we say? What should we do? Unpredictable in nature, grief is different for each person and each loss. So many factors come into play. Although each experience is unique, there are many things you can do to support your friend through their grief process. Learn how to help a grieving friend with Ecorial’s useful guide.
When someone is encountering grief, they’ll need their friends more than ever. Don’t leave them alone during one of their greatest moments of despair. This is your chance to support them through their grief process. Many times grief can be unacknowledged beyond the griever. Simply being there lets them know you care and that you recognize their anguish. Absorbing a loss can take quite a toll on the bereaved. If they don’t respond much to you, it isn’t personal. Just keep showing up. Your efforts could have a significant impact.
Surrender the Right Words
A common challenge for friends looking to support a grief-stricken friend is coming up with the right words. While admirable, it becomes a fool’s errand. There are no right words. Each person’s grief is uniquely their own. It isn’t about what you say. Your presence speaks greater volumes than any words you may find. So no need to put pressure on yourself to say the right thing. It’s more important that they realize they are not alone in their grief.
Listen Without Judgement
People grieve in different ways. The reaction to loss has no road map. By creating a safe, judgment-free space for your friend to release their emotions, you allow them to open up more and get it all out. This is a respectful way of showing your friend that you appreciate how difficult this is for them. They don’t necessarily have the energy to curb their thoughts and emotions due to fear of judgment. By allowing them to express themselves freely, you’ll be doing them a great service.
Accept Their Grief Process
Just as there are no right words for you to offer, there are no wrong reactions for the bereaved with their grief. Your friend may be just as surprised by their response to the loss as you. So many emotions and thoughts are flooding their nervous system. The brain struggles to keep up. Even if they have experienced loss before, each one is different. Accept that you don’t know how the process will play out. Your friend doesn’t know either!
Be a Gatekeeper
As your friend is coming to terms with a world without their loved one, there can be many people who wish to be apprised of the situation. You can help your friend by managing the network of information that needs to be shared. This could include providing updates on your bereaved friend to co-workers, neighbors, or other friends. In turn, you can accept any messages sent to your friend on their behave. Many times the bereaved isn’t up for being social, accepting condolences, or explaining the circumstances of their loss.
Offer Specific Help
A common phrase uttered to the bereaved is, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Usually, this goes nowhere. It’s a very broad offer. The grieving person doesn’t really know what they need or how to engage your offer. It may not be until much later that they realize what help they may need. By that time, they may have forgotten who offered help and when. Try being more specific. For instance, “Can I help you get some groceries?”
Encourage Them to Voice Their Feelings
Your friend needs to be heard. As they process their grief, there can be a lot of things they wish to communicate to their departed loved one. They may feel lost in how to do so since their loved one is no longer here. Your friend still has agency in this, even if they don’t realize it. You can offer a variety of options, such as journaling. You can also suggest that they write a letter to their loved one. If they wish, they can read it out loud or keep it personal. In some cases, they can also leave a voicemail on the departed’s cell phone. This can be very moving.
Talk About the Departed
Although their loved one is gone, the impact of their life still reverberates. In all the sadness, it can be cathartic to reminisce about the life of their loved one. By naming them and sharing stories, it fortifies your friend’s connection to the departed. If you happen to have a favorite story about the departed yourself, it may be nice for your friend to hear it. It lets them know that their loved one has left an impression on others as well.
Encourage Them to Accept Help
Many people feel shame or unworthiness when it comes to accepting help. It may feel easier to simply turn inward and just bear the loss on their own. This isn’t healthy for them. Reminding them that people really want to offer support may be uplifting and unexpected news to them. We all need help from time to time, especially when we are grieving.
Consider Your Friend’s Faith
If your friend is a person of faith, it may be uplifting to offer prayers or religious condolences. It’s important to be mindful of where they are at with their faith. They may feel disillusioned by faith in the wake of their loss. Conversely, your friend may be comforted by reading a religious text with you. Just be careful not to push your own beliefs on your friend at this time.
Consider Cultural Activities
Cultural traditions and norms may be part of your friend’s grieving process. This may include celebrations, the performance of rituals, or a period of recognized mourning. By asking your friend about them, you can open up a beautiful conversation. Displaying your sensitivity to your friend’s culture can be a soothing balm to them.
Check in with your friend periodically, but do so with no expectations for them to respond. When managing grief, it can feel like an extra burden to formulate responses to people reaching out to them. They may feel pressure to respond in a timely manner. Consider simply sending a text or email saying, “Just thinking of you!” It may mean a lot to your friend, especially if it’s on a milestone such as the anniversary of their loved one’s passing.
Allow an Open Timeline
There’s no telling how long a person may need to recover from their grief. Ultimately, grief never leaves us. We eventually find ways to cope and manage it. When inviting your friend to do any activity, give them room to say no. Allow them to be commitment-free. They may not be ready. By respecting their process, you’ll support your friend in their grief.
Be a Long Hauler
With the grief process possibly playing out over a long timeline, be sure to check in even if a year or so has passed. For many enduring losses, the second year can be more difficult. All the support they experienced in the first year has mostly dropped away. Your friend may still be feeling the repercussions of their loss. Consider dropping them a line on holidays, birthdays, or anytime.
Value Your Presence
When consoling a grief-stricken friend, you may feel powerless to soothe their pain. Your job was never to solve their grief. Filling the void after the loss of a loved one is an impossible task. Know that just showing up and being present is really one of the best things you can do for a friend. The bereaved won’t necessarily remember anything you say, but they will know you were there when they needed you the most.
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