Death is something everyone has in common. Even so, it can be difficult to know how to help a friend grieving the loss of a loved one.
The most important thing you can do is give your friend the help needed. Everyone grieves differently, so some people may want to be alone, while others want to be surrounded by friends and family. If your friend wants space, respect those wishes, but check on him or her periodically. It can be hard for people in mourning to reach out, even if you let them know you’re there for them if they need you. These guidelines are tried-and-true ways to be there for a grieving friend in need.
Listen More Than You Speak
If your friend asks for your company, the most essential part of being present is listening. Their grief is their own, and your role is not to know exactly how they feel or to make things better but simply to be there as they grieve. While it may be tempting to try to heal a friend’s pain more quickly, grief is not something that can be solved. Your friend likely recognizes their loved one led a full life and that there are things for which to be thankful. But knowing this does not bring the loved one back or make the pain any less devastating. Comments about a loved one being in a better place or reassuring your friend they will see them again can be especially hurtful for those who don’t believe in an afterlife. “When you offer a false consolation that we don’t accept, it can actually underscore the harsh reality of our loss,” Greta Christina said in an article for alternet.org. “When you tell us that death isn’t real or permanent, and therefore isn’t really so bad, it denies the depth of our pain.” Instead of trying to fix things, let your friend know you recognize her pain, love her, and are there for her.
Be There for the Hard Stuff
It can be uncomfortable to think or talk about death, especially if the circumstances of the death were less than peaceful. If you’re up to it, let your friend know that she can discuss the darker sides of grief with you. It is important for her to know it’s normal to think about such things and that she doesn’t have to do it alone. Seeing someone we care about in pain can be hard, but don’t discourage your friend from expressing her grief. Your friend might cry, and it’s OK for you to cry, too. Solidarity can bring comfort in times of unimaginable pain.
Be Willing to Help With Arrangements
Your friend may be overwhelmed by all the things that need to be done after someone dies. Offer to help with funeral arrangements, notifying friends and family of the deceased, and whatever else she needs. It’s easy for someone in mourning to spend more money than they otherwise would. Costs such as caskets, headstones, and flowers can add up quickly. While it isn’t your job to tell your friend no, you can help make sure she is thinking things through clearly and is not being taken advantage of.
Everyday tasks can be difficult for someone who has just experienced a loss. Instead of telling your friend you’re there if needed, offer to help with specific projects, such as cooking meals, watching the kids, cleaning house, or walking the dog. Then let her know exactly when you’ll be there to do these things. Knowing when and how things will be taken care of can allow your friend to focus on grieving. In an article for The Huffington Post, therapist Megan Devine encouraged people helping a friend in mourning to ask before doing anything. “That empty soda bottle beside the couch may look like trash but may have been left there by their husband just the other day. The dirty laundry may be the last thing that smells like her,” Devine said. “Tiny little normal things become precious. Ask first.”
Help Keep the Memory Alive
Sharing happy memories of the deceased and saying their name can be a comfort to your friend. Don’t be afraid to talk about the departed, unless your friend has asked you not to. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be especially difficult for someone who is grieving because they highlight that person’s absence. Reach out to your friend during these times, and offer to keep him company or include him in your holiday celebration. People often develop rituals or traditions to honor a loved one’s memory. Support these efforts, and don’t question the need for such practices.
Don’t Take It Personally
Grief is not easy to witness. You may be sad, hurt, or angry by your friend’s behavior. It may feel as though your friend is not thankful for your kindness, or that she doesn’t care about what is happening in your life. Remember to not take these things personally. Find another support system during this time, and don’t do more than you’re capable of. After funerals and memorials have taken place and condolences stop coming in, your friend will need you more than ever. By not giving all you have in the beginning, you can be there for your friend long after everyone else has left.
Watch for Warning Signs
Depression often comes along with grief. Do not discourage expressions of grief, but keep an eye on how severe your friend’s depression is and how long it lasts. If you think your friend is in any danger, or that an acute level of grief is lasting an unusually long time, you may want to suggest he seek help. According to an article by Helen Fitzgerald for the American Hospice Foundation, you should also watch for signs that your friend is becoming dependent on you. It is better to encourage independence than allow your friend to rely too heavily on you.