If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will one day. Someone you love will lose someone they love and they’re going to need you. Make sure you know how to help them.
Here are five ways to be with a friend who is in the grips of grief:
1.) Be present.
You might be tempted to leave your friend alone in the initial weeks and days of a loss. You might think they want space to grieve, and they might. But chances are, they need you now more than ever. Just be with them and listen to their pain. Be sure to attend the funeral. The family has taken tremendous time to plan a meaningful tribute and we have seen time and again how much it means when you show your support by attending.
There is a beautiful Jewish tradition we know of called Sitting Shiva. For seven days following a death, family members and close friends gather together, typically at the grieving family’s home. Everyone sits low to the ground, and much of the time is marked by silence. It is actually customary to not greet anyone upon entering the house, and not to speak until one of the mourners have spoken to you. It’s all about just being together during a time of loss.
2.) Be honest.
Don’t offer meaningless platitudes that you don’t really know are true. Don’t tell your friend that the pain will get better soon. You don’t know that it will. Don’t tell them that one day they will see this loss was for the best. That may not happen.
Instead, share your feelings with them in an open and transparent way. Tell them how awful their loss is, and that you can see and understand how much pain they’re in. Talk to them about their loved one, and share how much they meant to you too.
3.) Be specific.
Your friend’s mind is probably more than a little foggy. Not only are they under a cloud of grief, but there are numerous details they’re trying to figure out like funeral arrangements, insurance, wills, and more. When you offer them help, don’t say something vague like, “Let me know if you need anything.” They won’t even know where to begin! Instead, be specific in the assistance you offer.
For example, you could say, “I am going to bring you dinner one day this week. What day works best for you?” or, “I know you have a lot to deal with. What afternoon could I watch the kids for you so you can get some of those things done?”
4.) Be patient.
Grief looks different on every person. There are going to be times when your friend is sad or even angry. There might be moments when they try to shut you out or reject your help. Don’t give up on them. Continue to love and pursue them. While they might say no today, they might find a day when they’ll need your help desperately. Make sure they know you’re going to be there when that day comes.
5.) Be thoughtful.
Your friend’s grief isn’t going to just disappear after a week, a month, or maybe even a year. Be intentional in the ways you remember your friend after the service is over, the flowers stop coming, and all the family has gone home.
Offer to visit their loved one’s grave with them on the six-month anniversary of their passing. Send your friend a note on their family member’s birthday. Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those who have experienced a loss. Remember them when the big calendar days roll around.
Helen Keller once said that she “would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.”
We agree, which is why we’re here for you – whether you’re looking for resources for a friend or need them yourself. We see it as part of our mission to help you have a healthy grief experience and move towards healing. If you’ve lost someone you love, we would encourage you to access our grief resources.
Tell us in the comments section below – what are some ways you’ve reached out to a friend after a loss?