If your friend is grieving a death or loss, it can be hard to know what to say. These tips for helping a grieving friend are from Jane Galbraith, who wrote a book about facing and surviving grief.
She explains why talking about the loved one your friend lost is so important:
“Who hasn’t felt like they don’t know what to say when someone has died?” asks Galbraith. “Or we feel helpless, like there’s nothing we can do to help a grieving friend. But there ARE things we can do and say to help those who are suffering after the death of a loved one.”
For more information on baby boomers and grief, read Galbraith’s book Baby Boomers Face Grief: Survival and Recovery.
And, here are her five tips for supporting mourning friends…
Talk about the person who has died
We may not want to mention the loved one who died to grieving friends because we don’t want to upset them. But, people love to speak the name of the person they lost! To not talk about them as if they have never existed is very distressing to your friend who is grieving. Speaking about lost loved ones may produce tears, but it’s often more comforting than feeling that the name can never be mentioned. So, when your friend loses a loved one, don’t be afraid to talk about him or her.
Don’t accept “I’m fine” from your friend
Ask your friends how they feel — and don’t let them get away with “I’m fine.” We are so polite in our society that we don’t want to burden others with our problems. Ask your friend how they feel many months after the death. In the beginning, people are in shock and the pain sometimes takes months to hit. By then the world feels you should be “getting over it”! To support mourning friends, don’t just ask when you see them at work or at a social function. Pick up the phone and call.
Talk about the pain of grief with your friend – be real
It takes an enormous amount of energy to “be strong” or look “normal.”
Many people who are grieving could win Oscars for their performances, looking and acting as they did before so their friends would not be uncomfortable. In actuality they are trying to discover what their new “normal” is, and that takes time. Just because people look good doesn’t mean they feel good, so don’t let the façade fool you. Your mourning friend may need someone to acknowledge that this is a difficult time.
To learn the importance of expressing grief, read tips for grieving widows or widowers.
Avoid clichés about friends, death, and losing loved ones
Avoid clichés about “getting on with life” and “getting over it” because they irritate your friends who have lost a loved one. They know these expressions do not represent the reality. They won’t get over it, but they will learn to live with it or adjust to their new world. Your mourning friend isn’t just dealing with the absence of the person they loved, but also how that person affected their lives, and the loss of future plans and dreams. Continue to love your friend as he/she changes and adapts to a new world.
Keep reaching out to your friend
Sometimes they don’t know what they need and don’t have the energy to figure it out, so it would be better if you figure out what your friend needs and just do it. If it is an invitation to go somewhere, don’t be offended if you are turned down. Keep asking. Everyday is different and by continuing to ask you are staying in touch and connecting with someone who is in pain. Continuing to invite someone will let him or her know you are there for him or her and you care.
If you want to give your friend a gift, read Thoughtful Sympathy Gifts for the Loss of a Mother.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.
Find practical ways to help a friend who lost a loved one
Bring meals that freeze well and can be heated up in a few days or weeks. Offer to do laundry, grocery shopping, or errand running. If your friend has kids, volunteer to take them to sports practices or ballet lessons. If you haven’t given a gift or card, consider a “thinking of you” sympathy gift basket — it’s both practical and thoughtful.
May you trust yourself, and simply be a friend.
Jane Galbraith, BScN, R.N., offers presentations and workshops to organizations on grief and its effects on the workplace. To contact Jane or order her book, visit Baby Boomers Face Grief. This article is copyrighted by Galbraith.