Grief is an inevitable part of life. Whether a friend, a family member, or a pet has died, there is going to be some grieving involved. And if you see a friend grieving, it can often be hard to grasp how to best support them. What does your friend need? How can you be supportive without overstepping the boundaries?
Here are some tips on how to support a friend during a difficult time:
Listen Without Judgment
One of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend is to listen. When you listen, don’t judge their feelings, or try to console them – just let them talk through their grief with as few distractions as possible. It may be tempting to offer advice and suggest ways to make themselves feel better but always remember, grieving isn’t something that needs to be fixed or that can be fixed. Grief is an experience we live with ebbs and flows throughout the years. Your friend must know that you’re there to support them for the long haul, rather than trying to take away their pain.
Help Them Find Meaning Again
The grieving process is unique for everyone. This is also true for what brings meaning into a person’s life after a significant death loss. Some people find meaning through their faith and spirituality. Others may find themselves questioning once deeply held beliefs. Some find it helpful to seek out a grief support group where they can talk with other people who are experiencing similar things. There are so many ways that people find meaning after a death, including spending time in nature, mindfulness and medication practices, exercise, being with others, prayer, personal faith beliefs, or even establishing new beliefs and rituals.
The grieving process never really ends – it’s something people learn to live with every day. Be there to support your friend as they try to find meaning in life even amid their grief.
Be There When They Need You – But Know Your Limits Too
When the grieving process first starts, your friend will probably need support from their friends and family. It’s essential to be there for them during this time, but also know that it’s okay to back off a little bit. Let them control how much they want you around – if they’re calling you frequently or asking for help, don’t feel guilty about being there. If it seems like their grieving is getting worse, it might be best to give them some space so they can take care of themselves without worrying about other people too much. Grieving is incredibly draining on a person physically and emotionally, so your friend must be able to take time for themselves without feeling guilty about neglecting their loved ones.
Many bereaved people also tell us that months and even years after the loss, people stop showing up or showing that they care. This is often out of fear of bringing up the past and causing pain for a grieving person. Overwhelmingly, bereaved people have shared with us that when friends and family remember anniversaries, say the name of the person who died, and check in with them to see how they are doing, it is a positive thing. If you are unsure, ask. Then respect your friends wishes.
Occasionally Give Them Some Space
It is important to give your friend some space from time to time. It can be easy to forget that while you’re eager to help and listen whenever they call. Sometimes, what they really need is a chance to deal with their grief on their own terms. Just because they need you doesn’t mean they want you there all the time.
However, if you know that your friend will always welcome your support and presence, don’t ignore it! It means a lot when someone stands with us in trying times.
Offer Help with Everyday Tasks and Errands
If you see someone grieving doing tasks around their home or office, don’t assume they’re okay. Even though the task itself might seem easy, grief often makes people feel like the world is falling apart, and simple acts such as cleaning up may be quite difficult. Politely inquire about whether or not they would appreciate some help in performing small tasks – even if they decline at first, circle back from time to time to see if a helping hand would be welcome. In time, they just might take you up on your offer – and the offer itself reflects your care.
Overall, it is essential not to rush things along or force people into talking about it when they aren’t ready. Make sure that you are giving them space to process this difficult time on their own and give gentle reminders occasionally that you’re always there for them if they need it.