Grief and loss are two of life’s unfortunate constants. Like perpetual change, each of us will inevitably suffer some form of loss in our lifetime. Grief comes in waves and is enveloped in deep feelings of sadness, sorrow, ambivalence, and helplessness. It is especially important to support friends who are processing grief because they are faced with extreme emotional highs and lows—similar to that of a rollercoaster. During such a bleak and unexplainably complex time, having support and consistent outreach from good friends will go a long way. Outreach and care reassures the person grieving that they are not alone and that they have support as they go through their loss. The love and empathy of friends makes the process all the more bearable and lessens the sadness of having to manage anniversaries, holidays, or other special occasions alone. One of the telltale signs of a true friend is if he/she will be present and available when hardships arise. Making yourself accessible and available when your friend is in the dark night of the soul will speak volumes and solidify the friendship.
It is helpful to assure your friend or loved one that there is no timetable to grief. A major “do” in supporting a friend who has suffered loss is to make it a point to acknowledge that a) a significant loss has occurred and b) that person who is gone will always matter and be a part of their life. Acknowledging these factors can be all the more reassuring to the person who is in a rush to get through the various stages of the grief process. One thing I like to say to clients is that no one ever “gets over” someone they lose—nor should they. Grieving is a matter of getting to a point of healing and acceptance where you can healthily get through the days ahead without your loved one. It is perfectly acceptable to continually think about, miss, and appreciate your loved one. Their memory and legacy can and should live on with their living loved ones.
Another “do” to keep in mind when supporting a friend through grief is that grief typically consists of 5 stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance however, the stages are not linear. If a friend feels like they are doing well and feeling less sad or less depressed one day, it is perfectly natural to have a grief setback and feel as though they are starting all over again weeks or months later. A television show or song on the radio might easily activate a memory of a cherished loved one and that can cause the person in bereavement to have an emotional setback. The process may not always be manageable, so reassurance about this is very helpful.
A major “don’t” when actively supporting a friend who is grieving is to avoid phrases such as “move on,” “just get over it” or “this is making me uncomfortable.” Such statements can come off as extremely insensitive and they are not helpful. Instead, try to be as empathetic as possible. Empathy differs from traditional sympathy because you are purposefully trying to put yourself in another’s shoes and imagine how you would feel if you were going through what they are going through during this difficult time.
Lastly, try to avoid the notion that people who are grieving want to be left alone. It is not helpful to give your friend space and intentionally avoid them during this tough time. People who are grieving need to have social support and opportunities to share their memories and talk about their deceased loved ones. Make yourself available and hold a safe space so that your friend knows that it is not only okay to remember their loved one, but also that they do not have to hide their emotions. Whether its peaks of depression, loneliness, or anger, assure your friend that their feelings are valid and they deserve to feel whatever it is they are feeling. The best part is—they will have you by their side to work through it.