Some friends need practical help when a loved one dies; others need a shoulder to cry on. Knowing how to help a grieving friend cope with death, loss, or major life problems is an important part of friendship.
These tips will help when you need to support someone who is grieving a death, divorce, or any type of loss. Remember that you can’t make things better, but you can walk beside them as they cope. If they are scared of dying, you might share how to take the fear out of death with them.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand,” said Henri Nouwen. “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Simply being silent with your friend can give him or her strength, and help her mourn in a healthy way. But not everyone can sit in silence, and would rather do more practical, active things. If that’s you, read Healing a Friend’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas for Helping Someone You Love Through Loss.
And, here are five ways to help a friend who is mourning…
How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?
Coping with grief is an individual process, but there are stages of grief that most people go through. Part of supporting a sad friend is accepting that the stages of grief are a natural part of the mourning process. Let your friend mourn in her own way.
The stages of grief are disbelief, yearning, anger, depression and acceptance. These stages apply to a variety of losses, from coping with a pet’s death to divorce. Research shows that the stages of grief last approximately six months; the grieving process usually lightens after that. When you’re supporting a grieving friend, remember that your role is to be a friend (not a grief counselor or grief expert).
You can’t solve every problem or make everything alright again.
Find practical ways to help your grieving friend
To me, this is the best tip for helping a friend in mourning: bring meals that freeze well and can be heated up in a few days or weeks. Offer to do laundry, grocery shopping, or errand running. If your friend has kids, volunteer to take them to sports practices or ballet lessons. Your friend may not have the energy or strength to deal with the trivialities of everyday life. Your help will go a long way.
If you haven’t given a gift or card, consider a “thinking of you” sympathy gift basket — it’s both practical and thoughtful.
Stay connected – don’t stop calling or visiting
You may feel awkward and helpless when your friend is mourning, but don’t let your own feelings of discomfort stop you from reaching out. When my friend was coping with breast cancer, some of her friends simply stopped calling because they didn’t know want to say.
Grief support – honoring your friend’s loss – involves sending cards or calling on anniversaries, holidays or birthdays, or sending thoughtful cards. Make a note of important dates, and honor them.
Locate helpful resources about grief, death, or support groups
When your friend is dealing with death, divorce, or loss, she may not think she needs grief support groups or grief counseling. Maybe her mourning is too fresh to seek help — but in the future, she may be grateful for information about grief support. You might want to tactfully mention the bereavement counseling services nearby, or suggest grief support networks on the internet.
If your grieving friend has lost his or her spouse, read When You Lose Your Husband – Help for Widows Forced to Say Goodbye. It’ll help you understand what your friend is going through.
Listen to your friend without judgement or interruptions
Help a grieving friend by taking her out for coffee and offering to listen. Ask her to tell you all about her loss. Coping with grief is more difficult when there’s nobody to talk to; a good friend just listens.
When my friend’s grandpa died, a mutual friend took her out for coffee and asked her to share everything she remembered about her grandpa. Listening and being a shoulder to cry on is a loving way to help a grieving friend. It may not seem like much, but sometimes friends just need to talk, talk, and talk some more about the loss of someone they love.
Watch for unhealthy reactions, such as depression
Keep an eye on your friend for unhealthy responses to death, such as physical signs of depression, extreme weight loss, or social isolation. If your friend really seems to be struggling through the mourning process, talk to a grief expert or contact a grief support group.
I welcome your thoughts on these ways to help a grieving friend below. My sympathies are with you – it’s not easy to help someone who is mourning.