Real Stories: Supporting Friends Through Grief
“I was only 19 when I suddenly had to grapple with grief, not just for myself but for my whole family. I’m still learning every day how to deal with grief and find moments of joy when it comes to grieving those I’ve lost. I think it’s important to talk about grief, because grief can feel so lonely and private, but it doesn’t have to be.” –Abby J.
Death is a fact of life, which makes grief unavoidable. But we don’t seem to talk about it very much, which makes knowing what to say and do to support someone grieving a loss more difficult. Also, no two people grieve in the exact same way, adding to the challenge of helping a friend through their journey.
We spoke to some people about their grief experiences, and in sharing their stories, we hope you’ll find some good ideas to help comfort someone you care about.
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What to do to support someone who’s grieving
“It’s the support that continues on, day after day, month after month, year after year, that really makes a difference for someone coping with loss…the cards, calls and hugs that keep coming that mean more than anything.” –Skyler H.
- It’s wonderful to send a sympathy card or other message of condolences after someone you care about loses someone they love, but grief is enduring. Checking in over time—months, even years later—brings much-needed comfort and even happy memories.
“After my husband died, when I’d ask my daughter if my 8-year-old grandson could come hang out with me, she’d always say yes. We had a cabin in TN that needed lots of work, so I’d make frequent trips to work on it. It was my ‘healing place’ of sorts.” –Rinda H.
- Activities that a person enjoys or that help them focus on other things besides their loss can be a particularly welcome diversion, and having someone they care about join them is often all the better. Whether that’s a family member or a friend, the human connection is important.
“One friend started bringing me some dinners, knowing what a relief a night off from cooking was. Another friend texted me to ‘Please put a cooler on your porch next week. We will be supplying dinner every night.’” –Mo S.
- When someone’s grieving, a lot of practical things can help. Specific needs will vary, but things like meal trains, babysitting younger children for a time or helping to clean their house make a big difference and are a concrete way to show you care.
“The death of a pet is also devastating and should never be disregarded. I felt like people were less likely to listen to my feelings because it didn’t involve a human, but I was hurting so deeply inside for months.” –Sunny H.
- Remember that each person’s loss is very personal and therefore no less meaningful. Never minimize someone’s grief, and try to read the signs to know how they’re feeling and respond with empathy.
What to say to support someone who’s grieving
“Some people may be nervous to ask a grieving person directly about their loved one, but I wanted to talk. I wanted to process my feelings and share my love for her, and the friends who gave me the space to do that with them were great.” –Jake G.
- Not everyone wants to talk about their loved one during their grieving (and they’ll likely let you know) but many do. It can help them work through their emotions and even relive happy memories that can be a light in a dark time.
“The best thing for me when my dad passed was hearing from other people who had also lost their fathers. Friends who reached out who had lost a parent made me feel less alone and also showed me that I would survive what felt like crushing grief. Having a community who gets it is so important.” –Abby J.
- If you have a similar story and can relate, it’s more than OK to say so. Just make sure you’re giving the other person the room in the conversation to share their experience.
“When you can’t say good-bye, you’re left wondering if there was something you left unsaid or some acts of affection you neglected to perform. It can feel devastating.” –Jake G.
- With a loss, especially an unexpected loss, the person grieving may worry they didn’t give their best to their loved one. If it feels authentic, it can be comforting to assure them they did.
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