When a friend or loved one suffers the loss of someone close to them, someone with whom you may not have had a relationship, would you know how to respond? It is difficult to know what to do and say when we find ourselves in that position. We don’t want to intrude on their grieving process, and we certainly don’t want to make the person feel worse by saying the wrong thing.
If you have recently found yourself in the unfortunate position of not knowing how to respond to a grieving loved one’s situation, understand that the most important thing you can do is to simply be there for them if they need you. It sounds simple, but helping a loved one navigate through grief is never easy. Here are a few tips that can help you make the process a little easier for both of you.
Let Them Grieve
Since there is no single path to healing after an extremely personal loss, you should avoid the urge to set any kind of timetable in terms of how long you feel they should take to heal. The length of time we take to get through each stage of grief, as well as the grieving process on the whole, varies from person to person. It’s important to allow your loved one to take his or her own time.
Though there are some parallels between people related to the stages of grief we each go through, there is no rule about the order of those stages, or their predictability. Be careful not to project onto your friend what he or she “should” do or feel at any given time.
Emotions are Part of the Grieving Process, Acknowledge Them
The grief process is a roller coaster of emotions. There are going to be changes every day, and often several times during the same day. The bereaved feel angry, fearful and guilty, and there can be a deep sorrow that is difficult to shake. Let him or her know that you are there, and follow through. Communicate that it is just fine to vent, cry, and break down around you. Don’t make any effort to reason with him or her. Simply be present and willing to sit in silence, if necessary.
Affirm to the person who is grieving that what he or she is feeling is okay, and if you have experienced a similar loss, talk about it. It will be of comfort to him or her to hear that you understand and can relate to how they are feeling. However, if you don’t have a similar experience, simply continue to be there and listen.
Offer Practical Help
Your loved one’s emotional world has been shaken and it will be difficult for him or her to focus on everyday activities. Offer to assist in whatever capacity you can, but make sure that you only agree to do things you can realistically accomplish given the requirements of your own life.
A few examples of simple things you can do that will mean a lot to the grieving person would include helping with laundry, grocery shopping, helping with insurance forms and bills, picking up children, looking after the pets, and preparing meals. A little help will go a long way, and it will give your loved one an opportunity to focus on his or her grieving process.
The Long Haul
If you are there for your friend in the beginning, do your best to stick with him or her until the end. The grieving process will be exhausting for both of you, but stay in touch, offer ongoing emotional support, and help when you can for as long as you can.
Also, it’s important not to judge your friend’s progress based on the length of time he or she has been grieving, or on his or her outward appearance. Several months may have passed since the loss, and he or she may look like all is well. However, avoid making statements such as “you look like you’re doing well.” This adds pressure that your friend doesn’t need. Remember that he or she may never feel the same again.
On the anniversary of the death, and on other notable days, such as holidays, remember to offer your friend additional support. He or she is most certainly thinking about the loved one who has passed, and could use the extra encouragement.
See Stages of Grief