Grief: Supporting Friends After Loss
Posted on 27th October 2020 at 08:41
Do you have a grieving friend, but you don’t know what to say or do?
A typical nervous reaction is to ask if they are okay. Relentlessly. And of course, they are not.
As a friend, you can end up in a ‘no man’s land’ of wanting to help, show support, and that you care, but you don’t know how. And then you’re worried about disturbing their mourning.
Then, you stop calling as much, things happen in your life, you’re busy. You think of them and want to share your news, but you stop. That would be rubbing it in, wouldn’t it? Then you have a bad day but calling them doesn’t seem right; your stupid drama compared with their grief is nothing. Before you know it, you’ve accidentally ghosted them - distanced yourself or stopped contact, and it often continues for so long that you don’t know how to end it.
Before you know it, you’ve lost a friend, they’ve lost a support system, and everyone is unhappy.
How to support a friend after loss
1. Show up. Just be there and listen.
Many grievers are desperately in need of support to help them in coping with their losses. They need someone to listen to them without analysis, interruption, criticism, or judgment. Keep listening in mind when they’re talking about their loss. Fear of how to approach grievers and assist them stops many well-meaning people from being there for these people when they are most needed.
2. Ask questions
A common question we are asked is what to say to a griever. The reasoning behind asking questions isn’t about gathering information, it’s about giving them a chance to express their feelings. There is little anyone can say that will actually “fix” whatever issue is causing them their grief. Grievers are not broken and don’t need to be fixed. Usually all they need at the outset is for someone to listen.
It’s ok to ask what happened. The truth is that most grievers really want to talk about this. It is in retelling that story that they have an opportunity to express some of their emotional pain that they are already stuffing away inside.
A good follow-up question is to ask how they found out. Keep in mind that the reason to ask this isn’t based on your need to know. You are simply offering them the chance to tell their story and express their emotions. This is often a subject to which a great deal of energy is attached.
3. Use “feeling words” with them
Grievers may talk about their loss without sharing feelings. They may have found that, with this or a previous grief situation, when they shared their feelings others offered reasons why they should feel differently. If that is the case in this situation, let them see that you are different as a listener. You might say, “I cannot imagine how devastating/painful/heart-breaking that was for you.” It’s not that you are trying to put words in their mouth but reinforce that their emotions are something you’re comfortable listening to.
4. Offer to do specific tasks
One of the most common things a griever hears from others is the statement, “call me if you need anything.” You can pretty much guarantee they will never make that call. When people are grieving, they rarely know exactly what they need. Most grievers lack a sense of concentration and are frequently stretched in several different directions at the same time. This lack of focus can leave them lost when it comes to making decisions. Offering to perform a specific task, such as bringing over dinner, mowing their lawn, or babysitting is far better than asking them to decide on how you can help. Even if they decline your offer, they know that you are actually willing to help them out, rather than just telling them to call you. It’s very possible that they may ask you to do something other than what you suggested because they really do know that you are there for them.
Sometimes all your grieving friend needs is a gentle, loving hug. Ask them if they could use a hug, then simply give them a heartfelt hug (without patting – they don’t need winding!) and, if you are 100% in the moment, you will know when to release.
We hope that what we’ve shared here offers you some direction with supporting your friends with loss. We also have a book that can help your grieving friend, The Grief Recovery Handbook (see above). If you're interested in learning how to help others recover from loss as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, learn more about our training programmes here.
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