No one wants to watch a friend suffering with grief, that natural emotional response to loss. It’s a painful emotion to observe in anyone but even more so when it’s our friend.
No one wants to see a friend who is sad. It’s instinctual to want to ease their pain and sorrow and offer them comfort. Sometimes, because we cannot change the fact that someone has died, we feel inadequate; we feel we can’t be helpful. While it’s true we cannot bring back the deceased person to our grieving friend, we can ease our friend’s distress and comfort them. Here are my thoughts on how to go about it.
First, be empathic by opening yourself up to the other person’s pain and staying present to them. By that I mean be aware of their body language, their tears and sighs, their words or even their lack of words.
Second, make an effort to visit your friend as soon as you can after hearing of his or her loss, particularly if the person who has died was a significant part of your friend’s life. Also, when possible and appropriate, make a concerted effort to attend the service or memorial because your bereaved friend will always remember those who took the time to come.
Third, remind your friend of some meaningful times you remember about their deceased loved one. For example, “Marilyn, your mom was so smart and funny. I remember when we were kids and how she dressed up during the holiday as Santa’s elf. She always made people happy. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or, “Joe, your dad was the most patient man I ever knew. I remember his years of kindness and devotion to your mom after her stroke.”
Fourth, take your friend’s hand, touch them on the shoulder, hug them. Their body hurts now; it is aching with the absence of the lost person. Your compassionate touch will be merciful and comforting.
Fifth, tell them you will be there for them no matter how long they need to grieve. You see, the world wants us to hurry up and get on with things. This demand – whether from society or other people in your friend’s life – doesn’t work with the grieving process because loss, as love, is embedded deep in our souls and mourning cannot be rushed.
Sixth, send a note, card or email every few weeks telling your friend you are thinking about them.
Seventh, remove from your speech this sentence: “I know how you feel.” No one really knows how we feel even when the circumstances are similar; each person has his or her own unique experience of what losing that person means.
Eighth, comfort your friend with a few hopeful reminders that they, too, will be able to manage and survive this sad period. Comfort your friend by saying you will pray for them; that you grieve with them and that you are only a phone call, text or email away.
That’s what friends do for friends who are grieving. That’s what friends are for.
Updated: June 11, 2013