Your friend has lost someone who is meaningful them. You want to be as supportive as you can, but you feel uncomfortable. You’re not sure what to say or do, all you know is that you want them to feel better. You wish that you could wave a magical wand and make their hurt go away. Because you feel uncomfortable you may distance yourself, or you may avoid addressing the loss. Before doing that, take a minute to consider the overwhelming sadness and isolation that your friend is already experiencing. Talking about loss is not something that we regularly do in our culture. It hurts. And our instinct is to avoid hurting. But, left unaddressed, we leave the people we care about suffering in silence.
Here are 7 ways support a friend when they are grieving:
1. Show up Make a phone call, stop by for a visit, or take a walk. Just the act of showing up to be with your friend shows them that you care.
2. Remain Present As your friend is sharing about their loss, it is easy to make general comments like, “at least they are free from pain” or “they’re in a better place.” While well intended, these comments minimize the depth what your friend is experiencing. Think about it from you’re their perspective… isn’t here on this earth, with them, the best place for their loved one to be?
Instead, try “I can’t imagine the pain you are feeling. I love you and am here for you.”
Remaining in the present is tough work. Sitting with pain is tough work. Make an effort to be in the here and now to validate all of what your friend is experiencing.
3. Stop talking See point #2. Just be present.
We use words to try to control our emotions, to make ourselves and others feel better. This relief is typically temporary. Meet your friend where they are. If they want to talk about the person they have lost, let them. But just listen. Let go of your need to be heard, even if you think the story of your cousin losing her best friend will help.
Let them to share memories and precious moments that they hope they won’t forget. If your friend doesn’t want to talk and just wants to sit, then sit. Be silent and offer your support simply by being there.
4. Offer to help with concrete tasks When overwhelmed with emotion it is common for people to let go of the everyday. Offer to take the trash out, prepare a meal or to stop by to walk the dog. Small offers like this are evidence that you care and that you are available.
5. Stop asking what they need If you’ve ever lost someone, you can likely relate to not knowing what you need. You need that person back. But, that’s impossible. What else can be important right now?
Instead of saying, “what can I do to help?” or “I am just a phone call away if you need anything” anticipate what your friend needs. You know them best, use that to your advantage. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Make the call to tell them that they are on your mind and that you love them and are available to them.
6. As time goes on, don’t minimize the impact of their loss
A common experience in the grieving process is that while the rest of the world seemingly moves on, while the griever remains with the pain. Often they feel like they need to get over it and move on because the rest of the world has. As time moves forward, check in with your friend. Assure them that you are available to support them, to listen, to distract them. Whatever it is that they need from you, assure them that you can provide that.
7. Continue to show up. Continue to remain present. Continue to listen. Remember, grief is not something that will ever go away. It will only get lighter and easier to carry as time goes on.
Sarah is a therapist in Horsham, PA. She specializes in working with young adults struggling with issues surrounding body image, self-esteem, diet and exercise. You can find out more about how to work with Sarah and follow her blog at sarahherstichlcsw.com.