Grief is confronting. If you have a friend who is going through or has gone through a loss of any kind, you know it can be scary and challenging to know how to respond.
One thing I have noticed is that many people simply do not know how to deal with a grieving person. The response is to stay away or feel they should not talk about the loss or the deceased.
I find it useful to remind myself at this point that this is not about you. This is not your grief and not your sadness to bear. Yes, of course you will feel sad, however, your role is to support your friend and not to take on their grief as your own.
I thankfully, do not have a lot of experience with death myself, however I have experienced grief and I have supported friends who have grieved the loss of a loved one.
What I have learned is that the number one thing you can do is to simply be there.
Feeling that you don’t know what to say or that you will upset them more if you talk about the situation and so avoiding them completely, is the worst thing you can do, and your absence will be noticed. Its hard to mend a relationship after that.
Here are a few things you can do to support a friend or loved one going through a loss. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a marriage breakdown or something else.
- Check in.
It does not have to be much, and you should not be put off if you don’t receive a response. You never know when they will look at a message or remember something you sent in their lowest moments. A simple, “I’m thinking of you” or “sending hugs” will go a long way to showing your support.
- Don’t wait to be asked for help and don’t ask them what you can do.
They will almost always tell you they are fine and don’t need anything. Chances are they are in no state to begin to assess what they need and even if they can, they will not want to ask. If you know the person well, pop around and drop off meals or coffee or wine. Show up and even if they are not home, leave something for them and follow up with a call or message to let them know you came by. If appropriate, consider contacting a partner or family member and ask them what you can do to help. If you don’t feel close enough to pop by unannounced, send a gift or even just a card. Nothing is too small a gesture.
- If they have children, it is lovely to send or bring a gift for the kids.
An age appropriate toy, keepsake or activity to keep them distracted and happy especially if a close family member has passed. Kids are easy to please and it will be appreciated by the parents.
- If they have children, consider their tastes if making meals and snacks.
As lovely as a gourmet, flavourful and fancy meal is, it’s unlikely the four-year-old is going to enjoy it and that just creates more stress. Stick to kid friendly meals like spaghetti bolognese, jelly or muffins so the kids are fed and happy. Of course, if you are up to it, create the nice meals for the adults too. Store bought meals are an easy option if you aren’t able to cook.
- Organise a home delivery shop
Rather than asking specifically what they need, order a home delivery from Coles or Woolworths with the staples such as bread, milk, juice, pasta, a few ready meals etc. Just be mindful of allergies.
- Let them be sad.
Learn to be comfortable with letting someone express their grief in your presence. It is hard to see someone you love in pain and grief around illness and death is particularly confronting, but it’s important to let them feel their emotions and be vulnerable. The best thing you can do in those moments is listen and just be there. You don’t need to fix anything; it is not your role to heal them. You can’t take away their grief, but you can comfort them through it.
- Don’t forget them.
Often the hardest time is after the funeral. Soon the pop ins, meals, messages of support stop and the reality of life without their loved one hits home. Keep sending the messages, keep checking in and keep reminding them you are there for them.
Remember there are no rules to grieving and no one way to manage. Everyone experiences grief differently and will go through the process in their own way. Be patient and be kind, and above all else, just be there for them.