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How To Help A Grieving Friend

By Nancy Belvisi, LCSW

Everyone will experience loss at some time, and it can be hard for people to know what to say and/or do to help. Below are some ideas that may help when you want to be there for someone that is grieving.

Be there to listen and show compassion

One of the most important things people need when grieving is the understanding and patience of others. Let your friend know you accept them and their feelings about the loss. Let them talk, cry, and/or share memories of their loved one. Sometimes, just being with them silently is helpful. The most important thing they need is your continuing friendship, support, and understanding.

Avoid saying things like “he/she is in a better place now”. Even though there may be times that people who have lost a loved one may express this sentiment (particularly if they had an extended illness and/or suffered prior to their passing), those words can seem insensitive if they don’t match your friend’s feelings or beliefs.

It is important to keep in mind that each person’s grief journey will be different. Therefore, don’t expect your friend to experience things as you would, and try to avoid saying things like, “you should move on now” or “you shouldn’t feel that way”. Hearing things like that can unintentionally make your friend feel misunderstood or unsupported in their sorrow.

Don’t hesitate to share your own memories of their loved one. People usually love to hear memories that others have. Sharing them can actually be comforting and may help in the healing process. In contrast, it can be difficult when others feel they need to avoid bringing up the deceased person’s name, or think that talking about them will “make them feel worse”. Actually, the opposite is often true.

Offer concrete help

When someone has experienced a loss, there is often a great deal of planning at hand (funeral arrangements, finances, etc.), as well as the everyday tasks that still need attention. Sometimes simply asking, “What can I do to help?” is all that is needed. Some suggestions of concrete ways to help are:

Simply remain present and available as they go through their process

Your friend’s needs and experiences will change as they continue to move through their process. Keep in mind that the first year has many milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.) that may be additionally difficult to endure. Keep in touch with them during these times with a phone call, sending a card in the mail, or other ways to simply let them know you are thinking of them.

Try to remember that grief and mourning are very individual experiences, and there is no right or wrong way to do them. Being there as a consistent and caring friend can make a difference and mean a lot!