When a close friend of yours loses a loved one, it can very upsetting and heartbreaking if you aren’t prepared for what to expect. You may be able to help yourself help them by understanding the grieving process and having realistic expectations on what may or may not provide some solace.
Respect their Mourning
In order to make sure that you are going into this with your head on straight, make sure you have a thorough and realistic understanding of the actual nature of the grieving process. You may be familiar with the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But what you may not realize is that, while these stages are frequently listed in the same consistent order, this does not necessarily mean your friend will experience these emotions in that order. Everyone’s grieving process is unique, and your friend should not feel like they are being told how they should be feeling. The only way to calm their emotions is by learning to feel and experience them fully.
Understand What it Really Means to Be There
One of the biggest frustrations you will face when trying to help your friend will be in truly not knowing what to say or do. Maybe your friend is closed off and doesn’t want to talk or doesn’t know what he or she needs help with. Make sure you are truly listening to them if they do tell you what they need, and remember these hints when trying to be there for them:
If they say they want to be left alone, they probably really mean it. As someone who is very close with this person, you may know when they really do want to be left alone and when they are just closing up because they are frustrated. It’s always important for your friend to feel loved and supported during this time, so in these circumstances, find ways to make them still feel your support even as they take their alone time. You may want to make sure to let others know not to bombard them with phone calls or visits. After a little while, it will be time to do something supportive like place a call, have an appropriate sympathy gift delivered to their house, or just
writing them a note—whatever you think will send the best message to show them that you are thinking about them and you are there for them whenever they are ready to talk.
Though you should remind them that they can always call you when they need someone, you shouldn’t expect that if you haven’t heard from them, they don’t need help. In most cases, they will not call you unless they are really facing an immediate emergency. They may feel embarrassed about asking for help or maybe they don’t want to burden you. Make sure you are regularly communicating with your friend and doing your best to anticipate their needs.
At the same time, you have to be cautious of overstepping your boundaries. During times like these, it is important to not violate their comfort zone. For example, you might think you are being helpful by cleaning up around the house, but your friend may be clinging to the way the room was before the tragedy. Maybe their spouse had laid their things on the kitchen counter in a certain way before passing, and your friend feels comforted by it. When in doubt, be sure to ask.
Ideas for Helping Them
Your friend is most likely not going to tell you how you can help them and, honestly, they might not know what exactly they need. Consider a few of these ideas for what might be helpful to them during this time:
Try to keep them from getting overwhelmed. Bring over some snacks and a funny movie to try and get their mind focusing elsewhere for a short period of time. Encourage them to take a walk with you around the neighborhood to get some fresh air.
There will be many things that will need to be done while your friend is facing grief, so help them achieve as many of these tasks as possible while also helping them maintain their normal lifestyle and habits. Help them find ways to maintain normalcy. Run errands with them or cook dinner for them. Keep them involved in these tasks to try and distract them and get them back into their daily routine.
Let them do the talking. The best thing you can do is to just lend an ear and let them get out their emotions. Remind them that you care about them and will always there to help out or be a shoulder to cry on. It’s important to try and put yourself in their shoes and empathize with what they might be feeling.
Your friend’s loss is going to stay with them forever. Even months and years later, they will be thinking about it every day. Once some time has passed, a thoughtful way to show you are still thinking about them and what they are still going through would be to donate to a cause in their loved one’s name. For example, if their mother passed away from breast cancer, make a donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in honor of their mother.
While it’s always painful and upsetting to see someone you love suffering, by being comforting and supportive, you can make a huge difference in your loved one’s outlook and ultimate recovery. Do your best to be as supportive as possible during this difficult time, and try to think about what they need the most. Attempting to put yourself in their shoes might help with this, so give it a shot.
photo credit: grieving women Helenium 219 via (license)