Support Your Friend
Support your Grieving Friend – Grief is difficult at any time in one’s life, but it can be devastating during college. Just a few of the stresses that grieving students face, include: academic pressures, social expectations to be “carefree,” developmental issues, and a general lack of discussion about grief. Despite the relatively large number of grievers, few students talk about their grief and most feel as though their friends don’t care or don’t “get it.”
The purpose of this page is two-fold: 1) provide information about how you can be there for your grieving friend and 2) give you a tool to communicate directly to your grieving friend that you’re there for them and that you’ve found this organization, which may be a good resource for them.
Tips on how to Support a Grieving Friend:
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say to support a grieving friend. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Although it is often hard to know how to reach out, reach out. Communicate to your friend or loved one that you want to be an ongoing part of his/her grief journey and that you are comfortable listening to his/her pain. Listen to them and remember that silence is OK.
2. Be genuine in your communication. If you do not know what to say, that’s OK. “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know that I care,” is affirming. No one has all the answers.
3. Offer to help in concrete ways. For example, “I’m happy to come over and make dinner for you one night if you would like.” Rather than, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” This makes it easier for your friend to access your help when he/she needs it.
4. Encourage your friend to open up about his/her emotions and help them feel comfortable with them – no matter what they are. Grief is not a time for judgment, placating (e.g. “He’s in a better place now.”), or giving advice about how your friend should be dealing with their grief.
5. Remember that it takes a lifetime. It is tempting to gravitate to resources that explain the grieving process and these are often helpful. But grief is a unique journey for everyone and losing a friend, family member or significant other is a profound experience. Being patient with your friend’s emotions – whatever they are – throughout his/her lifetime, is the best support you can offer.
6. Know when to seek additional help. If you sense that your friend is unstable, it is your moral and ethical responsibility to find/refer them to a mental health professional (http://locator.apa.org), suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) or call 911.
Information about helping a grieving college student friend
Have you ever heard someone say, “I lost my ______________. “ and you sit there and think, what should I say? Sometimes nothing you think of sounds right. Be sure to:
Communicate to your friend that you want to be a part of his/her grieving process and that you are comfortable with just listening.
Remember that grief takes time (years) to learn to live with and never goes away, so be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death.
Encourage your friend to open up about their grieving process with friends, family, and others who have grieved during college.
Encourage your friend to honor their deceased loved one through service to others or an activity that their deceased loved one enjoyed.
Remember that you can’t take away their pain, but you can let them know they are not alone.
If the person who is in grief is suicidal, it is your moral and ethical responsibility to find/refer them to a mental health professional (through campus directory, calling suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255, calling 911).
When speaking with your friend about their grief:
Empathize with the pain he/she is going through — just knowing that you are there for support will be an immense source of strength.
Express your concern. Example: “I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
Be genuine in your communication and don’t hide your feelings. Example: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
Offer to be helpful in concrete ways rather than as a general statement (“I’m happy to come over and make dinner one night if you need.” vs. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”)… follow through with this and repeat your offers!
Listen in a non-judgmental manner and let them tell their story as many times as they need/want to.
Allow periods of silence – offer silent support – be a good listener.
Don’t avoid the deceased person’s name.
If you knew your friend’s loved one who is deceased, talk about what you loved and miss about the deceased person.
Try to avoid:
Do not placate (e.g., “He’s in a better place now,” “It’s part of God’s plan,” or “Look at what you have to be thankful for”)
Do not say that you understand exactly what your friend is going through. Even if a significant loved one of yours has died, one’s reaction to death is very individualized.
Do not give advice about what your friend should or shouldn’t be doing in his/her own grief process.
Do not pass judgment on your friend’s timeline of grief there is no set time and remember grief is not a linear process.
Do not encourage them to make major changes in their life, let the grief process take it’s course.
Do not try to ‘fix them’ or make it all better — grief is a natural process.
Do not make statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.” These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about. . .” or “You might. . .”
Do NOT make assumptions that someone is doing great and “all better” based on their outward appearances – grieving is an internal process (feelings, body sensations, and other individual differences that may never be seen)
– Information offered by:
Michelle Hamilton, MHC, CT, a Bereavement Counselor, AMF Board of Alumni/Student Leaders, AMF Alumni member
Kiri Thompson, MS, LPC, a Child and Family Counselor, AMF Alumni member, and AMF Chapter Development Director
David Fajgenbaum, MSc
(These tips are a collection of personal tips, as well as from books, web pages, and respected organizations.)
A tool to communicate directly to your grieving friend that you’re there for them and that you’ve found this organization, which may be a good resource for them.
Not a day goes by that I do not think about your loss and what you have been going through. I wanted to let you know that I am here for you at any time to talk and listen. In fact, I was searching the internet for ways that I could help and I came across this awesome organization, AMF, which is dedicated to supporting college students coping with the illness or death of a loved one. They provide information about grief, help students to start up Campus Chapters nationwide, and have a supportive blog for students to connect with others “who get it.” Check out HealGrief.org/ActivelyMovingForward and let me know when you’d like to talk. I’m always here for you.