How to support a friend who is grieving
At some time in our life, sadly, we will all lose somebody who meant so much to us. And as morbid as it sounds the only certainty in life is death. So why are we not taught at school how to grieve? Or how to support someone who is grieving? As the death toll from Covid 19 in the UK creeps towards 125,000 people it is imperative as a nation we know how to support those who sadly have lost a loved one. We no longer have the 'choice to ignore grief'.
From my own personal experience of grief and the support I received, to the accounts of clients who I have worked with alongside their grief, I have created this blog. I hope it helps give you the confidence and insight into how to best support a grieving friend, or if you too have been bereaved I hope it helps you to reach out to friends to ask them for what you may need right now.
Simply show up
I think one of the biggest things you can do for a friend is to show up. When going through a significant loss the last thing that person needs is further loss in their life, and this can come in the form of friends not supporting them. Show up by consistently contacting them, even when they feel unable to reply just knowing that someone is there for them regularly means a lot. Of course show up in person too if this is possible, by spending quality time with your friend. After losing somebody a common feeling is 'no one else in the world knows how I feel'. It can almost feel like you are the only person grieving in the whole world. So of course loneliness and grief often come hand in hand. But by showing up and stemming that loneliness, that can do wonders for your friend. In counselling terms we use the phrase 'secondary losses' which often occur in grief. The primary loss is the person who has died, and the secondary losses are all the losses that occur following their death. Some of the most common being support systems disappearing and financial losses for those left behind. Often once the funeral has happened this is when most people disperse, your friend will get less questions asking how they are and less visitors. Continue to show up, months and years down the line.
Give your friend practical gifts / support
The chances are your friend is going to be inundated with flowers. Flowers are a lovely thing to receive, they literally bring brightness to very dark days. But actually flowers are not always the best thing to give someone who is grieving. It might sound strange but when the flowers die that can be triggering for a newly bereaved person, as their loved one too has just died. A plant on the other hand is something that your friend can focus on nurturing, watering and watch grow over time. It can often be a metaphor for growth and new life which can bring comfort to your friend. Along this theme I think a wonderful gift to buy your friend is a vase for all the flowers they are bound to have received. You can buy lovely engraved vases which you might want to get engraved with 'In loving memory of...'. Thoughtful gifts are going to go a long way.
Food is another great thing to give your friend. The chances are, unless they use cooking as a way to cope with their grief, the day to day task of providing themselves with meals is going to be tiresome. Yummy foods are going to bring them a sense of comfort and give them energy to keep going each day, as well as help build back up their immune system which often can take a battering from grief.
Make a note of the day your friend's loved one died
A 1 minute job that can mean so much - write down the day your friend's loved one died. The anniversary of a loved ones death can be the most difficult day and reminder for your friend of what they have been through. Contacting them on the anniversary will mean so much to them and allow your friend to feel their loved one has not been forgotten about.
Ask them what they need right now
This can be a tricky one, as not everyone who is grieving knows what they need other than their loved one to come back. But asking a friend - 'how can I support you right now, what do you think you need?' can be a good starting point. You might want to add to that 'don't worry if you don't know what that is, I will try and help you in the best way I can'. This can help take added pressure off your friend to try and figure out what they need, when it may be that they don't even know how they feel. It may be that they want to cry with you, be held, be listened to. As awkward or as uncomfortable as this may feel for you it will be little in comparison to the extent of grief that they are feeling. Sit in your own discomfort and give them what they need. They will be so grateful.
Ask your friend to tell you about their loved one (if they want to)
I recently asked one of my clients to tell me about their Dad who had recently died. She became very tearful and shocked at my question as she said no one had ever asked her that before. But she also got great comfort in telling me about him. She told me her Dad's name, the name of his favorite band, his personality traits and her favorite memories of him. Ask them to tell you, if they feel they can. This can help keep your friend's loved one alive in their memories and help them to feel a continued connection to them. It may be here that your practical gift for your friend could be a memory box, help them fill this box with pictures, items that belonged to their loved one etc and allow them to speak about them.
Someone who has experienced grief will often always remember who was there for them and who wasn't. I hope this has helped you to be there for your friend who is struggling right now.
What else would you add to this list that has helped you in your own experiences?
Take care of yourself today,