How to support a friend who is grieving
Chloe offers some practical steps you can take to support your grieving friends
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Losing my mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and without my friends it would have been a lot harder. Having my friends to support me helped me in ways I can’t even explain. Many people wonder how they can help a friend who has lost someone and given my own experience I’ve learned a thing or two that might help. This is based entirely off my own experience. Everyone is different. You know your friend and sometimes your intuition can help you better than any article.
Your friend is going through hell right now and sometimes they just want someone to listen to them. They’re not looking for advice (unless they specifically ask for it) or someone to tell them what they do. Most of the time they just want to talk and have someone listen, whether that be in person, on the phone, over Facetime, or even a Snapchat video. Just let them know that you are there and ready to listen whenever they are ready.
2. Wait until they’re ready
While listening is the best thing you can do, trying to force them to open up or talk about what they’re going through before they’re ready might not help. Let them know you are there for them and they will open up when they’re ready (if that’s what they want to do). It might be a week, a month, six months, a year, whatever it is try not to rush it. It is different for everybody and is not something that can be rushed.
3. Offer practical help
Sometimes there is very little you can do to emotionally help your friend, other than listen (there’s a reason it’s top of the list) but there are so many practical things you can do to help. Drop them off some ready made dinners, bring them out for lunch (ask first, they mightn’t be up for it), offer to look after their kids, siblings or their pets, be physically present (if they want you to be and if you’re available to be), literally anything you know might help them. Your friend mightn’t ask for help but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it - they might not realise they need it or they might not want to ask. While there was very little anyone could do to help me emotionally, the practical help my friends gave me made things easier for me.
4. Remember them when your life goes back to normal
Of course you’re not going to forget about your friend or what they’re experiencing but when your life starts to go back to normal, theirs will not. Your friend is now trying to adjust to a whole new way of living without this important person in their life and this can take a very long time. For about the first month your friend will likely be surrounded by people asking how they are and offering them help but it is after this first month that your friend will need you more than ever. That practical help I mentioned earlier is not just for the first few weeks, your friend will probably need it for months after - definitely not as often, but the occasional pre-made meal or offer to take the kids will be greatly appreciated for a long time. Even the smallest acts make a big difference. Grief can be very lonely. Little reminders that you are thinking of your friend make a big difference.
5. Ask how they’re doing
I know it might seem scary to ask how they’re doing - you might be worried that they will be having an okay day and your question will upset them. From my experience this is not the case. The random “how are you?” texts I receive now, six months down the line, can make my day. It will let your friend know that you are thinking of them and if they’re having a rough time let them know they can open up to you. No matter how much time has passed there will always be days that are extra difficult and these little reminders that someone is thinking of them are wonderful.
Be aware of particular dates. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are especially difficult - let them know you’re thinking of them on these days especially.
6. Be patient
It will be a long time before your friend is okay again, I can’t say how long because everyone is different and I’m still not there yet. Remember that their world has literally been turned upside down and it will take a long time for things to even begin to feel normal for them. All they need is for you to be patient. If they’re not up for going somewhere or doing something on a particular day, avoid pressuring them into going. Just let them know it’s okay and you can do something another time. If they’re having a bad day (no matter how much time has passed, even if it is years) be there for them. Saying things like, “but it’s been X amount of time” or “it’s not that big of a deal” are really hurtful and not helpful. Sometimes even the smallest things can be upsetting. Try to remember that it’s not your place to question why, you just need to realise that they are upset and help them the best you can.
This is all based on my own experience and your friend’s experience might be completely different to mine. These are the things that have helped and continue to help me but I am only one person and you know your friend better than most. It’s also important to remember and respect your own boundaries. Your friend might be going through something awful but that doesn’t mean you don’t have your own problems. Some days you can’t be there the same way you usually are and that is okay. Your friend should recognise and accept this too. At the end of the day you are human and all you can do is be there for your friend in whatever capacity works for you. Your friend will appreciate it no matter what.