How to Support a Grieving Friend

Even with the best intentions, when we know a friend is in pain or struggling, it can be challenging to know what to say or do. 

It’s hard to know what to say or do when someone we know is grieving the loss of a loved one. Our gut instinct is often to ask, “How can I help?” But, even with the greatest intentions, when we know our friend is in pain or struggling, it can be difficult to know how to behave.

Maybe we aren’t sure what to say, or we feel that there is nothing we could do that will truly make things better. Don’t let that fear discourage you from reaching out. Your friend needs your support now more than ever – let them know that you are there for them.

UNDERSTANDING GRIEF: The better we understand loss and how our mind and bodies react to it, the better we can support those who are grieving. Grief can be difficult to understand because it is so different for everyone. The way we react to a significant loss is affected by our relationship to the deceased, how the person died, our religious beliefs, cultural norms, and who we are as a person. Grief has no timeline, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

CHECK IN: After a loss, it is normal to feel like your world is turned upside down. Many people long for the “normal” they felt before the death and appreciate interactions with friends that aren’t filled with questions or the infamous elephant in the room. Try to avoid asking questions like, “What’s up?” or, “How are you?” and instead ask more direct questions like, “How are you in this moment?” or, “How has your grief been this week?” These questions can be easier for your grieving friend to answer and lets them know that you haven’t forgotten about their loss.

LISTEN: Listening is one of the best ways to be there for a grieving friend. Create the space for your friend to talk about the person who died and know that silence is okay, even though it can feel awkward at first. It will get easier. Don’t press the person into talking about their grief or offer advice. It is often comforting just to have the presence of someone else, so offer hugs, a hand to hold, or eye contact. Let them know you are there to listen by asking them, “Do you feel like talking?”

OFFER CHOICES: There are so many unknowns in grief, and things can change from moment to moment. We may feel fine one minute and be completely taken over by a scent or a memory the next. Offering choices to your grieving friend can help them to feel empowered and lets them know that you do not have any expectations of them. Perhaps it’s asking to spend time together or asking for ways that you can help with funeral arrangements.  Let them know they can change their mind at any time, and you won’t take it personally.

HELP IN PRACTICAL WAYS: At the risk of feeling like a burden, many do not ask for help when we are grieving. If you’re able to, try offering practical help to your grieving friend. Offer to get groceries for them, babysit the kids, or run errands, so they have a few hours to themselves, help them with daily tasks such as laundry or cleaning, offer to go for a walk with them, or do something they enjoy. Whatever way you can be there for your friend, the help will not go unnoticed.

BE THERE:  Immediately after a loss, family, friends, and community members rally to support the newly bereaved. As time goes by, the calls dwindle, yet the pain remains. One of the most important things you can do for your grieving friend is to be there for the long haul. Don’t make assumptions based on how your friend appears to be doing. Reach out regularly to check in, especially on special days (birthdays, death anniversaries, Mother’s Day, etc.). The grieving process varies from person to person and lasts much longer than most people expect. Continue to be sensitive in your interactions with your friend.  Continue to show your friend grace and support them in their grief journey.  You will make a difference.  

If you believe your friend needs additional help, offer resources like SandCastles. You can reach SandCastles at 313-771-7005 or sandcastles@hfhs.org.    

If you are worried that your friend is thinking about hurting or killing themselves, reach out for help.  You can call 1-800-273-TALK to get additional support. 

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