If you've ever gone through a loss, you may be familiar with the initial surge of support from friends and loved ones. They offer help, ask what you need, and promise to stand by you. Yet, as time goes on, this support often diminishes. People become preoccupied with their own lives, and communication becomes less frequent. As a friend, it's crucial to recognize that this is when your continued support is most needed. While others may have resumed their normal routines, your grieving friend is still in mourning.
Acknowledging the person's loss with sensitivity is a crucial step in offering your support. You can express your condolences and empathy by saying something as simple as, “I heard about your loss, and I'm so sorry. Please know that my heart goes out to you during this challenging time.” This simple gesture conveys your sympathy. It lets your friend know that you are there to support them in their grief journey.
Ways to Support a friend during grief
Instead of a generic, “Let me know if there's anything I can do,” offer specific assistance. For example, “I'm here to help you with grocery shopping or taking care of your pets if you need it.” This approach not only shows your willingness to assist, but also eliminates the burden of your grieving friend having to figure out what help they need. It demonstrates Your thoughtfulness and genuine desire to support them during this difficult period.
Sharing a favorite memory or story about the person who passed away can be a heartfelt way to offer comfort and support to someone who is grieving. In the days that followed Rose’s loss, we were in her kitchen and Rose was still a little shaky. She was putting away dishes and one slipped from her hand and broke. She sat on the floor and cried. I picked up the shards of plate and threw them away. I sat on the floor beside her and spoke in a soft voice. “Remember that Christmas when your grandmother was telling us about each piece of mixed matched china she was using to set the table and the tradition behind the set? She dropped a tea cup and a saucer? We all sucked in our breath waiting to see what she would do. Rose finished the story, “Granny just laughed and said, “I guess it’s time to start a new tradition.” We shared a laugh about that. By sharing a particular memory or story and inviting further conversation, you not only pay tribute to the person who passed away, but also provide an opportunity for your grieving friend to reflect on the positive aspects of their loved one's life. This can be comforting and healing during the mourning process.
Listening can be one of the most valuable forms of support when someone is grieving. Let your friend know that they can rely on you to listen. Having their emotions validated will help them to feel seen and heard. Let your friend know that they can rely on you to listen. Having their emotions validated in a safe space allows them to express their feelings and can be the catalyst for healing. Do not offer advice or solutions unless they specifically ask for them. Sometimes support just means sharing stories, crying together, or just sitting in silence. By doing this, you emphasize your willingness to be compassionate and present in your friend's life and respect their need to process their grief in their own way and at their own pace. It assures them that their feelings are valid and that you're there to support them on their terms. There are many ways to support a friend through their grief journey.
For goodness' sake, whatever you do, please, please, please avoid cliches. This is essential when offering support to someone who is grieving. Saying things like, “everything happens for a reason” or “they're in a better place” often falls short in providing genuine comfort and can sometimes even be hurtful. Instead, it's more meaningful to acknowledge their pain and offer your genuine support. Saying, “I'm here for you”, “I'm sorry for your loss”, or “I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you” conveys your empathy and understanding without trying to explain or justify their experience. Remember that the grieving person needs empathy and compassion more than any philosophical or spiritual explanation for their loss being a compassionate and attentive presence is often more comforting than trying to find the right words.
It is important that you respect their need for space and silence. This can be crucial when supporting someone who is grieving. Respecting their silence reassures your grieving friend that their feelings and boundaries are paramount. It demonstrates your understanding of their need for autonomy and their grieving process and your unwavering support regardless of whether they choose to talk or remain in solitude.
If you have been reading my blogs, you've heard me say that grief does not have a timeline. The initial wave of support may fade over time. Continue to check in with your friend, even months after the loss. It is most important that you are there for your grieving friend or loved one in a way that feels genuine and compassionate. Your presence and support can provide them with much needed comfort during a difficult time.
About the Author
I wish I could tell you that I knew some deep secret to the art of grieving, that there was some mystical way of waking one day and being completely over your loss. The secret is, there is no secret. Loss can come in many forms and can strike at any time. While we will all face the agony of loss at some point(s) in life, the fact is that it can be the hardest thing we will ever deal with. My name is Jacinta Wills. I became a Grief Specialist because I understand the need to deal with the difficult emotions of loss. I lost a job that I loved doing in 2010. In 2013 my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. In 2015 my grandmother passed away. 4 days later we lost my mom. In 2017 I separated from my husband of 30 years. I am sharing my personal journey with grief so that you understand that when I tell you I know what grief looks like and have experienced so many aspects of what grief is that I do not take it lightly. The single most important thing you need to realize in this moment of your grief journey is this. However difficult it is, you are in the process of healing, right now. In my group, we will tackle some tough topics. You will be able to share experiences about your loss, receive and give support to others who are grieving, and work through some of the emotions that cause you distress. We will have conversations that are sometimes structured and sometimes free-flowing. You will be encouraged to feel your anger, shame, guilt, love, despair, and hopefully some humor along the way.