Grief is an emotional response to loss, especially to the loss of someone or something that you have an attachment to, whether that relationship is positive or negative. It can occur from the loss of a person, pet, job, marriage, home, sense of security, etc.
Grief is an uncomfortable topic for many, so it makes sense that you may feel like you do not know what to say or do for a friend who is grieving. You may find that your friend's experience has made you more aware of your own vulnerability to death, which is a normal reaction. If this is the case, I suggest that you take some time to process your own feelings surrounding grief and loss, confide in someone about it, write your feelings down on paper, or find another means of self-expression that fits for you. This will help you be most available to offer support to your friend when you are with them.
In addition to addressing your own feelings, here are 5 other ways that you can support a friend who is grieving:
- Do not make assumptions
- While it can seem comforting to say things like "they are in a better place" or "it's time to move on," it is best not to assume that your friend wants to hear these types of comments. Rather, it is better to ask your friend what it is that they want to hear or what resonates with them. Often, people share with me that they feel most comforted by knowing that their friend is aware that there is nothing that they can say to make the pain go away.
- Be present with them in their pain
- Your friend is likely uncomfortable with the depth of their feelings and possibly concerned that being authentic with their grief around you will make you uncomfortable as well. The best thing that you can do for someone who is grieving is to sit with them in their pain, tolerate it with them, rather than trying to fix it. Grief by nature is not something that can be fixed, but an emotion that takes time to process through.
- Offer to assist with something tangible
- Many people tend to offer to help in a blanket manner, saying something like "Let me know if there is anything that I can do" or "Call me anytime." While this is well meaning, it is more helpful for your friend if you offer a clear task, such as cooking them dinner, helping them with a specific chore, or babysitting their kids so that they have some alone time.
- Everyone's experience is unique
- You may have experienced a similar loss or circumstance. However, it is important to remember that everyone experiences loss in their own way. While you may mean well, sharing too soon about your own similar experience may make your friend compare themselves to you, rather than feel unified with you. Wait for them to bring up the commonality, especially in the beginning.
- Just listen
- If you don't know what to say, sometimes it is best to say nothing. Do not underestimate the power of silence. It creates space for your friend to feel heard and validated.
Remember that your friend will often be surrounded by support in the beginning when their loss is still fresh in everyone's minds. Checking in with them regularly is key, especially once the initial support settles down and people go back to their normal routine. While you may find that your daily life comes back to the forefront of your mind, make a point to follow up with your friend about how they are feeling, weeks, months, and even years after the initial loss, as anniversaries, holidays, and memories can be difficult for years to come.