When a friend or loved one is in the midst of grief it is normal to feel totally helpless. You want to help, you want to take away the pain, but nothing feels like it would be enough.
Let me start by saying it's ok. You don’t have to fix this. Honestly, you can’t. Your friend is going to be sad, devastated, and hopeless no matter what you say or do, but you can help!
I see grief as a weight we carry. Some days it is the weight of a marble, others it feels like a boulder. When a friend comes alongside us it's like we are carrying the weight together. It’s a little lighter, and we know we are not alone.
My best advice is to approach this wanting to lighten the load and not to fix your friend or the situation. Unfortunately, you cannot fix the grief, take it away, or make the situation better. But you CAN help your friend feel validated and know they are not alone. You take away the loneliness that often accompanies grief.
Here are some ways you can help a friend who is grieving.
Texting is such a gift. Often times a grieving person may not feel up for a phone call. A simple text saying you are thinking of them can go a long way.
Plan your check-ins. If your grieving friend is a part of a group, you can make a plan for each friend to take a couple of days to check in that week. Your friend may not need a text every single day, but a few days a week is really nice.
Put important dates in your calendar. This includes birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones. These days will be especially tough for your grieving friend.
When you check in, try to be specific. Ask “how is your grief today?” or “how is your heart?”
Questions like, “What has been difficult lately?” and “How have you been connecting you’re your person?” even “What are your favorite memories of them?” Can provide a wonderful opportunity for your grieving friend. You are giving them permission to grieve out loud and that is a gift.
When in doubt, just ask! If you are afraid to ask about the event that occurred, or even how your friend is actually doing, you can just say “do you want to talk about this right now?”
Don’t be afraid to be awkward. This is uncharted territory for you both and you are not expected to “get it right”.
Listen and Validate
Providing a listening ear is one of the best ways to support your grieving friend. If it seems like they want to share let them talk and ask questions along the way.
This is tough but try not to provide solutions. There is no solution. Instead, validate their feelings. “That makes sense that you feel that way.” “I can imagine I would feel the same.”
It’s totally ok to say, “this fucking sucks”. You don’t need to be positive or cheer them up. Knowing you care and knowing they can be authentic with you will lighten their spirits I promise.
Your friend may get emotional and they may not. Don’t be afraid of their emotions or your own. I have a hard time crying in front of others. I had friends come and visit and sometimes they would cry and I wouldn’t. This didn’t bring me down. It made me feel so loved. I knew they cared so much for me and that they were so sad that Hank died. That is a beautiful gift.
If your friend isn’t a talker just sit with them. You don’t have to say or do anything, just let them know they are not alone by your presence.
You can affirm things will get better but take the grievers lead. If they seem to be looking for hope or trying to imagine brighter days, you can be the affirming voice that says “yes!”
Your friend may change, possibly forever. Knowing you are with them no matter what, and that they are accepted in their grief is a big deal.
Things to Say
Here are some helpful, affirming statements that may help your grieving friend.
“That seems normal” “I can totally understand that”
“I’m so sorry you are going through this”
“I can only imagine what you are going through”
“This is not your fault”
“You don’t deserve this” even “this isn’t right/shouldn’t have happened”
“I have no words”
“I have a favorite memory of ____ can I share it with you?”
“_____ should be here right now”
“I miss _____ too”
Say the names of the person they lost
- Grocery shop
- Drop off a meal
- Gift a Door Dash gift card
- Order takeout
- Mow their lawn
- Take their dog on a walk
- Clean the house – dishes or laundry (I only wanted my mom’s help with this so be sure to ask)
- Offer to watch their kids
- Porch drop-offs so they don’t need to interact
- Sympathy cards and flowers
- Memory Gifts – monogrammed jewelry, framed pictures, plaques (go on Etsy and search memory gifts or bereavement gifts)
- Coffee or sweet treats
- Comfort gifts – comfy socks, a soft blanket, bubble bath
- Candles to light in memory of their person
Try not to offer help in an open-ended way. “Can I do anything” or “I’m here if you need anything” can feel overwhelming. Instead try, “I want to buy you dinner is there a night this week that works best?” or, “I know you probably don’t feel like doing housework, mind if I come over and mow the lawn?” Remember to only offer what you can give. You cannot pour from an empty cup!
I want to end by saying thank you. The love and support I received after Hank died honestly saved my life. Just the fact that you are seeking ways to help your friend means a lot!
Don't be afraid to say or do the wrong thing. We can feel your empathy. I hope you feel empowered to be a part of the process.