Oct 272008
 

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.

helping a grieving friend

“How to Help a Grieving Friend” image via thenationalherald.com

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.

laurie pawlik kienlenI'm Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen (but I wish my name was Rosie Frost!). I'm a bookworm, travel bug, flute player, writer. My husband and I live in Vancouver, Canada with our cat and dogs.

Are you happy? My Grade 10 Social Studies teacher, Mr Merritt, always used to ask me that. And I am happy - despite a difficult childhood (schizophrenic mother, no father, foster homes), infertility, an eating disorder, and a chronic illness. The source of my peace and joy is God; I'm a Christian.

How is your life unfolding - what do you need? I welcome your big and little comments below, about big or little things. I can't give you advice, but writing can give you clarity and insight.

In peace and passion.... Laurie

  64 Responses to “5 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend – From Practical to Emotional”

  1. Dear Nicole,

    Is your ex still grieving the girl who died? Sometimes it just takes time for people to resolve their feelings about death. There is no set amount of time, especially since death makes us question the meaning of our own lives. I don’t think we can say anything in particular to help a grieving friend…I think just being a supportive person who listens and cares is the most meaningful thing we can do.

  2. Ok so I am trying to help my ex, which I still care about.
    story: On Friday, April 25, 2014, an 8th grade girl got strucked by a train. She attempted to take her life before, but this time she succeeded. I believe she had life issues, friends, family .. Etc. And now my ex is grieving over her. He spends his time writing a song for her . Which I don’t disagree with, I mean I heard it was a good thing that he was expressing his words. But still I want to help. I realize I cannot fix the situation whatsoever, but I would really want to know what I can say to him. I’ve been listening to him, and being silent. But I don’t enjoy it too much. I’d hope to talk to him , letting out stress, grief. Etc.. But I don’t know what to do. He is just showing some depression, and says cant get over the feeling of her haunting me. What can say?

  3. thankyou so much Laurie, That was very helpful.
    god bless

  4. Dear Kayla,

    It may feel like you’re not doing enough, but being there and crying while your friend cries makes all the difference in the world! Just hold her hand and sit by her while she grieves. That’s one of the best ways to support a friend in grief, even though it feels like you’re not doing enough.

    You might also read up on suicide and how people feel when a loved one takes their own life. You don’t need to tell your friend what you’re learning, but it may help you understand what she’s going through.

    And giving her a book on coping with grief may also help — it really depends on her. When my grandma died, I read books on loss and grieving because I’ve always turned to books for help and information. But if your friend isn’t a reader, then a book may not be helpful. If she loves music, maybe you could give her a thoughtful DVD with music that is meaningful to her.

    Keep visiting her, and telling her that you’re there for her. Tell her that you’ll listen if she wants to talk about her dad, or if she wants to do something entirely different.

    And remember that grieving a loss is a lifelong process. She won’t bounce back in a few days or weeks or even months — it really depends on her personality and lifestyle. Some people seem to take death in stride, sort of, while others are permanently negatively affected by it. Suicide is a whole other domain, too, because loved ones are left feeling confused and guilty. That’s why it’s good to read about it, so you can understand the range of emotions she’s feeling.

    I hope this helps a bit, and am glad you’re there for your friend. It may not seem like much, but your presence makes all the difference in the world.

    Blessings,
    Laurie