When a friend loses a loved one, finding the right words can be a challenge. What do you say to someone whose whole world has been turned upside down?
There is no magic formula to comfort a grieving friend and make them feel better. Grief is complex, and far from linear. Everyone’s grieving process is unique and your friend is no different!
That being said, there are some ways you can make a bereaved friend feel supported and help them cope with loss. Here’s how to support a friend in their journey through grief.
1) Acknowledge their pain
Empathy is the cornerstone of effective support. Acknowledge your grieving friend's pain without judgment and let them express their emotions freely.
Avoid offering clichés or solutions, as these may minimize their experience. Instead, create a safe space for them to share their feelings openly.
2) Listen first
Listen more than you speak. People are often looking for what to say to someone who’s lost a loved one when that person might just need someone to hear their thoughts and memories.
Don’t get stuck in your head trying to find the right words to comfort them. No amount of “you’ll be okay” will magically blow their pain away!
Grief is not a problem to be solved but a process to be embraced. Sometimes just saying things like ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ and ‘I can imagine that is incredibly difficult’, or even ‘that really sucks’ is enough to make them feel heard.
Listen attentively to what your grieving friend has to say. Avoid interrupting, and when you do respond, reflect on what they've shared to ensure you really understand what they’re saying. Active listening reinforces the idea that their feelings are valid and heard.
3) Validate their feelings
Grief is not simple, and the emotions it triggers can get overwhelming, to say the least. Make sure your friend knows that whatever they're feeling – be it anger, sadness, confusion, or even moments of relief – is entirely valid. There's no right or wrong way to grieve!
If you’ve been through bereavement yourself, you can choose to share your own experience to show they’re not alone in going through these conflicting emotions.
There is a ‘club’ you join when you lose someone close to you, and although nobody wants to be in it, it can be helpful to share experiences and reiterate they are not alone.
4) Offer practical help
Grieving takes a toll on body and mind and often makes even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. You can’t take the emotional pain away from your friend, but you can make their life easier with more practical help.
Don’t underestimate the power of another pair of hands! Offer to prepare meals, run errands, or assist with daily chores. These small acts can alleviate some of the burdens your friend may be facing.
If you know your friend will say no to your offers but deep down it’ll help, showing up with food and just leaving it there with no expectations of joining them could be greatly received.
5) Be there
Sometimes, helping someone grieve is not about knowing what to say, listening, or even practical help; it’s just about being present. Simply being there can do a lot!
Your grieving friend might appreciate some company while they’re dealing with the logistics of losing a loved one. This is a really challenging phase that can feel incredibly difficult for someone recently bereaved, and your presence can help give them the strength to go through it all.
Just being around and available is very important throughout the grieving process, whether it’s answering their call, watching TV together, or visiting a place that meant a lot to their lost loved one.
Help your friends by getting plans in the diary which will help distract them and also give them something to look forward to when they’re feeling up to it.
6) Be patient
Grief doesn't adhere to a timeline. Understand that your friend might have good days and bad days, and the intensity of their emotions can fluctuate.
Patience is key as they navigate the ebb and flow of their grief. You might find it difficult to manage at times, and it’s important for you to know when you need some time to recharge.
You’ll be a better friend to them if you’re emotionally available and have the energy to offer your support. Take care of yourself, too!
7) Help them celebrate their loved one
Encourage your friend to celebrate the life of their loved one through meaningful rituals. This could involve creating a memory box, lighting candles, or participating in activities that honor the person they've lost.
These rituals can provide a sense of continuity and connection. They can be particularly important around the most difficult times of the year for people who’ve lost someone, like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
8) Check in regularly
The grieving process doesn't have an expiration date. Continue to check in on your friend regularly, even after the initial shock of loss has subsided. They might look better, but that doesn’t mean they’ve overcome it.
The post-funeral period can be incredibly difficult as the logistics and planning which takes up a lot of grieving space in the initial few weeks has gone, and your friend will be thinking about how life moves on. Extra check-ins and support at this point can be particularly helpful.
The healing journey has ups and downs which are not always easy to spot. Regular check-ins will make them feel more comfortable asking for support instead of keeping these feelings to themselves. Consistent support shows you’re there for the long haul.
9) Know when to suggest professional help
Therapists and counselors are trained to guide people who’ve lost a loved one through the intricate process of grief. While your support can be incredibly precious, sometimes your friend might need professional help to cope.
Remind them that seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. They don’t have to go through this on their own!
While you can't erase their pain, your presence and support can help a bereaved friend feel less alone as they navigate the grieving process.