Losing a loved one is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. For those who have experienced it, you’ll know the anguish and heartache it brings. For those who haven’t, you can no doubt imagine the level of pain it would cause.
But when the grief isn’t entirely your own, understanding how it feels and how to deal with it is a whole different ball game. From time to time, friends in your life will lose their loved ones, and you will be called on to help them through their hard time.
That said, grief is a mysterious beast. It affects people in different ways, and each of us needs a different level of support. While that’s great to know, it doesn’t really help you, as their friend, figure out what they need from you.
How do you know if you’re intruding or welcome? How can you make sure you’re sensitive to their feelings?
Here are five simple tips to help you help them…
1. Level-Up Your Grieving Process Knowledge
Whether you’ve experienced your own grief or not, equipping yourself with a deeper knowledge of how the grieving process works is a great start in helping your friend through their trauma.
Knowing that the “7 stages” of grief don’t exactly provide an accurate blueprint to how your friend ‘should’ be feeling will help you understand that your friend may be experiencing one or a mix of emotions at any one time.
Understanding that your friend may exhibit a range of behaviors will not only help you help them, but it will also help you on a personal level too. Often people act out towards their loved ones when they’re in pain, and knowing this will ensure you don’t take a potential negative outburst to heart.
2. Offer practical help where needed
Your support of your friend doesn’t necessarily mean holding their hand and being there when they need to talk. Support can come in all shapes and sizes. After the loss of a loved one, it’s hard for the bereaved to just continue with normal life, so offering some assistance in this area may be just what they need. Anything from making them dinner, running errands, or looking after their children for a short while will undoubtedly offer a little relief in their day.
Unfortunately, the death of a loved one also adds another (unpleasant but necessary) task to the bereaved person’s plate; organizing funeral arrangements. This is such a difficult thing to do while going through such a painful time, so having a friend to visit the funeral home, and assisting in making decisions about things like cremation urns or burial arrangements is crucial.
3. Be their ear or their silent companion
Depending on the bereaved’s own personal process, they may wish to talk about their grief regularly or to keep completely silent about it. Either way, they may need you to be there to listen (or not, as the case may be).
Note that at varying points throughout their grieving process, your friend may want you to either respond or keep silent, but you must pick your times to sympathize or rationalize. Usually, people who have lost a loved one need a mixture of responses from those who are supporting them, but the timing is crucial. Unfortunately for you, there’s no definitive guide to when you should say what, but you’ll usually be able to sense the right and wrong moments intuitively.
4. Don’t forget about them
After the initial dark days and weeks following the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, it’s easy to forget that the grieving process is not over (for those not experiencing it at least). So, even if your friend is no longer showing the intense level of grief they exhibited in the beginning, they are still feeling it to some degree, and therefore probably still need your support.
The support that comes after the first few weeks or months is perhaps the most needed too. After a loved one dies, people generally flock to the aid of the person affected, but most don’t offer consistent, long-term support. So, after the initial inundation of help, emotional support, and practical assistance, the bereaved are often left with limited options. Make sure you’re around to be that option.
5. Monitor their mental health
It’s probably not a far stretch for you to imagine that depression following the death of a loved one is extremely common. Sadly, many of those experiencing these mental illnesses, take it as part of the grieving process, and so do their friends. While it may be true that some level of depression is expected, spiraling into a hopeless black hole is not.
Be sure to keep an eye on your friend’s mental health. Although they may grieve for some time, their symptoms should get better gradually. If they don’t begin to fade after a couple of months, or they worsen, it may be time to encourage them to seek the help of a medical professional.
The only thing that’s certain about grief is that it’s different for everyone. As a friend, you need to identify how your loved one is dealing with the loss of theirs so you can show your support in the way it is needed.