How to Be a Good Friend When Someone is Grieving
When someone dies abruptly, news of the loss can feel like a physical blow: a death in a traffic crash, a heart attack or someone who dies by suicide. When someone dies after a long illness or even from old age, the loss may have been anticipated, but it still can send people’s worlds spinning. When someone you are close to suffers this kind of loss, it can be tough to know what to say or do. But there are ways you can be a good friend when someone you care about is grieving.
First, it’s important to understand there is no one right way for a person to act while they are grieving. Some people might withdraw from their social life and seem depressed. Others might cry a lot and want to talk non-stop about the person they’ve lost. Still others might bury their feelings of grief deep inside and act like nothing has happened.
So how do you know how best to react when a friend is grieving? Here are some tips:
Be present for them. Sure, it might be emotionally hard to approach a friend who is dealing with loss. You might think you don’t know the right thing to say. Or you might think your friend doesn’t want to be bothered by a visit right now. But don’t stay away. Connect with them, even if it’s just a short visit or a call. If you don’t live nearby, send a sympathy card or a small “thinking of you” gift. They might not remember the exact words you said, but they will remember your hug, the time you spent with them, and the effort you made to show you care.
Don’t ask too many questions. If a grieving friend wants to share lots of details – or even overshare – let them talk. It’s likely their way of working through their loss. But the aftermath of someone’s death is not the time to ask probing questions about the details of how someone died. That can seem too intrusive for many people.
Use the person’s name. Don’t shy away from using the name of the person who died. Many times, people trying to comfort someone might think it will make grief worse if they mention the name of the person who died. Instead, use that person’s name, suggests experts in an article for Harvard Medical School. It makes the person seem present and sends the message that their memory won’t be forgotten.
Encourage movement. The simple act of getting moving and out of the house – where they have been processing their grief – will be helpful. Even if the weather poses a barrier, bundle up and get outside.
Don’t push people forward too soon. Each person has their own timetable when it comes to grief. They need to go through that process in their own way. While it may seem to you they are mired in sadness too long after the loss, it’s never good to tell someone that “it’s time to move on.” They will move on when they are ready.
Be a listener. Now is not the time for friends to dominate every conversation. Make sure your friend grieving a loss has the time and space to talk about it. Be a good listener when you are around them. If they are telling a story about the person they lost, you can comment or ask for another detail to keep them talking, but don’t take over the conversation. Let them share their memories first.
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