Supporting a friend through grief
Have you ever regretted not being more helpful and supportive to a friend who is grieving? If your answer is Yes to this question you are not alone. Bearing witness to a friend’s grief can leave a person anxious, tongue tied, upset and uncomfortable. It is common following a death to show support and condolences in the immediate days following. This is somewhat easier to do because there is a protocol to follow. However, as time passes many view the person’s grief with unease, it is seen as a family matter and best avoided. This is a real shame as it is often a time that the person could benefit greatly from friendship and it often takes very little action to make a big difference to the person.
If you would like to be more available to a grieving friend but are unsure of what you can do or say, here are a few points that may be helpful.
Stay in touch
First and foremost, stay in touch. Don’t let anxiety about what to say stop you picking up the phone or going to visit them. It is not necessary or expected that you will only talk about the loss. Talk to them how you would have always done so. Speak about things that you would have always spoke about. Invite them out. Even if they don’t feel up to going, they will know you care and want them there. A common complaint from someone grieving is that it’s as if people don’t want them around. This in part may be true because of how difficult it can be to know what to say or do. But don’t let this stop you because it will only hold them and you back.
The reality is that it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is grieving. Often there is nothing that can be said that will make a difference to the person’s loss but there is lots that can be said to best serve your friendship. First let them know that you don’t know what the right thing to say is. Then ask them how you can help. Ask them if they want to speak about the loss or the person they lost. Finally don’t forget to speak about normal, everyday things. This is the backbone of friendships and will tide you both through the difficult times.
Grief expresses itself in so many different ways and at different times. There is no one right way. Try to be understanding of your friend’s individual way of grieving. It may not be your way or another person’s way but it is their way. And what they most need is a friend to allow and support them through it no matter how it manifests.
It can be so difficult to see a friend upset and crying. You don’t want to see them hurting, you want to be able to help and you may also feel upset yourself. Allow your friend to cry and express their feelings without stopping them. Also allow yourself to show your feelings. This will only show them that you care.
And just as important as all the other points don’t forget about yourself. It can be emotionally draining to go through a loss with another person. Find someone that you can trust to share how you are feeling and the impact of your friend’s loss on you. Care for yourself by doing things that leave you feeling recharged. If at any point it feels too overwhelming to be there for your friend, leave the guilt behind and take some time for yourself.
Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at firstname.lastname@example.org or 085 1372528.