How To Support a Grieving Friend
Grief can be an incredibly overwhelming and lonely time. So, when someone you care for loses a loved one, they need your care and support more than ever.
There are many ways to show care and support for someone during times of grief. It can be difficult to know what to say, and the fear of saying something wrong can sometimes lead you to be absent in their time of need. You can help someone who is grieving by being compassionate, open, willing to help, and your presence alone shows your support.
Here are some things to keep in mind, though.
Make an effort to check in with them, even if it’s just a quick phone call or an invitation to grab a coffee together. You may be surprised by how much your check-ins can mean to a friend who is grieving. It can be a great comfort to even speak about things like headstones, funeral arrangements, and old memories in the early days after a loss. These communications can spark ways in which the friend wishes to honor their loved one’s life. Obviously, they would rather their loved one be with them, in the flesh, but talking these things out loud with a supportive friend can help ease the burden that one has in making so many decisions. You may ask the question: “How would your loved one love to be celebrated?” For some, their loved ones had already expressed what they would like, or maybe even already made their arrangements themselves.
Regardless, checking in and being prepared to sit with them is kind to do when you’re unsure what to do.
Listen More And Talk Less
When you are with someone who is grieving, it can be hard to know what to say. You will naturally try to make your friend feel better. However, in a situation such as grief, talking excessively doesn’t help, and it can actually do more harm than good.
Instead, make sure you pay attention to the amount of talking you do in comparison to listening. Your friend will feel more benefit from talking about their feelings. Be there to listen to their thoughts and feelings, showing compassion for what they are feeling.
Deep, active listening is a skill. If you find yourself wandering off in your mind, and lose track of where the person was in sharing, then be honest about that. Apologize for not being fully present with them at the moment. It’s not rude to ask them to repeat what they shared, but it is rude to pretend like you’re listening when you’re not. This is why I shared above to be prepared to sit with them if you ask how they’re doing and genuinely care to know the answer.
Tip: If you are struggling to listen to hear, it can be helpful to focus on each word coming out of their mouth consciously.
Allow Them To Cry
One of the most important areas of the grieving process is showing deep sadness and allowing yourself to cry. Allowing your friend to cry shows them that you understand that crying is a much-needed part of the grief process.
You may have the urge to cheer your friend up or tell them to stop crying, but you need to remember, it is all part of the healing. Think about their tears as a healthy way to go through the grieving process.
Tears from crying for long periods releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals can help ease both physical and emotional pain. Crying is a good thing!
One of the earliest messages we receive as children are that it’s not okay to cry. Children may be called “cry babies” or sent to their room to cry. Or, this idea that crying is a sign of weakness is also very prevalent in our society.
When we are born, we know how to grieve. Think about that. Very young children express every emotion unapologetically. However, it’s the adults who influence this shift in crying, not being okay. Or even showing anger as not being okay. Anger is a valid emotion, too.
Tip: One of the many things I learned in my training in grief recovery is never to hand someone who is crying a tissue, unless they ask, of course. If someone is releasing emotions through crying, handing them a tissue at that moment will stop them in their tracks. It’s a gesture as if to say: “stop crying.”
Ask Questions If You Need To
People are often hesitant to ask questions of a friend who is grieving. They worry about upsetting them or saying something wrong. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions if you need to. It enables your friend to speak about their loved one openly.
You aren’t limited to asking about the past, though; you should also ask about their wellbeing. Check-in on their self-care, how they are sleeping, and if they are eating well. Explore how they’re feeling emotionally, and make sure you listen with care and compassion. You’re not there to fix anything. You can’t do anything to take away their pain. However, your presence can make a massive difference.
Tip: Grievers often don’t know what they need. They’re overwhelmed with emotion. And, what they need will change from day to day as well. So, you could ask: “What would help make today a better day than yesterday?”
Offer Practical Help
Sometimes grief can lead to your neglecting your basic needs. Practical help can be more useful than anything else when it comes to grief. Some of the tasks you could help with include:
Cooking meals and batch cooking
Be Ready To Sit In Silence
Grief brings in a variety of powerful emotions, and sometimes all a grieving person needs to sit in silence to regain a semblance of peace. It can be challenging to sit in silence, especially when you know your friend is struggling emotionally. Resist the urge to fill the silence. Instead, allow it and embrace it. Your presence is enough support. Being there for your friend, you show them your support and love, even if you sit in silence and don’t say a word. If they are at home, they may even feel supported enough to get some rest. Your presence alone may be more therapeutic than you know.
Tip: Sitting with someone in silence is not the most natural thing to do. And it may even feel awkward. But, you could ask your friend: “Hey, how would you feel if I came over, made us some tea, and we just sat on the porch and listened to the birds?” Or, depending on the time of year, maybe watch a funny movie.
Make Sure You Remember Important Dates
Anniversaries, birthdays, and others can all be a painful reminder of your friend’s loss every year. If you can, remember all the important dates, including the date of their loss. They may need help and extra support when grief symptoms kick in. Reach out to your friend, and let them know they are on your mind.
After a loss, people usually have good intentions about staying in touch. Busy lives can make them not follow through. Keeping in touch with your friend can really help them. Above all else, remember you can’t fix their pain but can help to ease it and allow them to work through grief.
Tip: Set a yearly reminder alert in your phone for the special days where you can reach out with a card, a phone call, or special text. You can take it one step further and ask if something special they had in mind of doing on that special day – or would like to do.
Do you have anything else that could help? Please share them in the comments below.
P.S. If you’ve never listened to my podcast, Grieving Voices, every guest shares their experience and wisdom around grief. Every guest offers wonderful insight into how to support others who are grieving.
Get In-The-Know & Receive
Join The Unleashed Letters and receive weekly inspiration + exclusive content not shared anywhere else. You'll also be the first-to-know of upcoming dates/times of Grief Recovery Programs and informational talks.