When a close friend loses a loved one, we want to be there for them but often find ourselves not knowing what to say or do. When we are not comfortable in our ability to show support, we may resort to using clichés or avoid talking about the deceased all together. When we do not know what to do, our words and actions can unintentionally be hurtful.
If you would like to learn more about supporting a close friend with complicated grief, please see below for suggestions. These tips may also be helpful in supporting a friend in the early stages of grief.
1. Be present and available. Understand that the bereaved may feel abandoned and recognize that you could inadvertently contribute to these feelings.
2. Take initiative in making contact. Don’t expect reciprocity during acute grief. Try to understand that the bereaved person might not be able to meet expectations and demands during this time.
3. Listen closely. Share knowledge and advice sensitively and honestly, if requested. Be willing to sit in silence, squeeze their hand or give them a hug.
4. Encourage honest disclosure from the bereaved. Let the person know it’s okay to cry and to feel scared or angry. Make it known that you won’t judge them. Understand that a grieving person may feel the need to put up a front because they are worried that others can’t deal with their emotions. Encourage the bereaved not to do this with you.
5. Provide help with problem solving in a spirit of partnership and not as an authority. Be honest when you are uncertain about what will be helpful; share this with the bereaved person in a respectful way.
6. Let the bereaved person lean on you, especially in ways that are not so obvious.
7. Be respectful of the mourning process and patient with its progress. Have faith in the bereaved person.
8. Remember the deceased and talk about this person.
9. Look for ways to promote positive feelings in the present and hope for the future. Don’t feel discouraged by the natural sadness that infuses these feelings.
10. Show respect for the person’s need for independence and solitude while making clear your strong commitment to being available and responsive.
11. Let the bereaved know that you want to stay in touch for the long haul. Make it clear that you understand that there are days of the year that are especially difficult and that you want to help with those times.
12. Be aware of your own feelings about what you want from the bereaved person that they can’t give to you right now. Don’t try to push these feelings away. Do try to find other ways to have your own needs met.
13. Encourage the bereaved person to ask for help. Ask them what you can do and if they don’t know, make suggestions. You might be able to help with errands, accompany them on a walk or drive them somewhere. You might just spend quiet time with the person.