Grief is one of life’s greatest struggles.
My best friend lost a loved one this week. I found myself desperately wanting to provide comfort, yet not knowing how to do so. Being afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing… making the hurt worse.
The tricky part about grief is that everyone grieves differently. Some outwardly show sadness, despair, and maybe even anger. Others seem unaffected, and go about their normal routine. It’s important to recognize that grief is specific to the individual; it’s different for each person based on coping mechanisms, experiences, and available support network.
To help a loved one who’s grieving, the first step is paying attention, without judgment, to how they need to grieve, so you can grieve with them.
In doing so, you are better prepared to provide support in the way they need, a way that’s supportive and comforting.
I think the hardest part about supporting a friend who is grieving is knowing what to say, and when and how to say it. In these situations, when someone we care about is really hurting, it’s only natural to also feel that hurt and sadness, and want to make it dissipate. Consequently, it’s instinctive to want to say and do things that make us feel better.
Like, for example, giving them a big hug and saying how sorry you are for their loss. I recently did exactly this, in a moment when my friend was trying to be strong and stay composed. Consequently, I saw her tense up and hold back tears. In that moment, while saying and doing that met my inner urge to express my feelings, I truly failed to support her needs and feelings in that moment.
While my intent was genuine, sometimes, what makes us feel better is not what will make our grieving friend feel better. Recognizing this, and keeping the situation in perspective is crucial to truly providing the support your friend needs—even when it may not feel ‘good’ to you.
So, as I reflect on my own missteps and learning, here’s my advice to you when supporting a friend or loved one grieving.
There’s not one ‘right’ way to support
Sometimes it’s not about what you say or what you do, it’s just about being there. Being fully present to a loved one’s pain- not asking or focusing on anything but being present and sitting with them; making uninterrupted space for their thoughts and emotions. This may not feel like enough—but your physical presence brings comfort. Offering a hand, a shoulder to lean on, or a hug, can be just what someone needs to navigate grief. While you can’t fix it or take away the pain, you can offer your time and presence.
Don’t let the fear of not saying or doing the right thing put distance between you and your friend. Remember— they need you now more than ever. Chances are, your friend isn’t expecting anything. You must stick around through the hurt and pain.
Even after all the services and memorials end, grief does not stop. For some, intense grief only sets in well after a loss.
As a friend, it’s much easier to remember and tune into a friends grief shortly after the loss, but as time passes, it’s becomes much tougher to keep this in mind. Even months and years after a loss, grief can still be greatly felt. So, it’s important to recognize that grieving never truly ends. Each anniversary is important to acknowledge and mention. Keeping the memory alive can bring comfort and remembrance.
Find Moments to Celebrate
Even months and years after a loss, it’s important to celebrate memories of our loved ones. This can be accomplished through coffee or lunch dates on anniversaries, and simple ‘cheers’ to the happy memories of the people who have died. Sharing your memories or mentioning their name will help your friend focus on their loved one’s life, the happy moments, that one must hold on to. Know that it’s still okay to bring up their name, especially if a key milestone like a birthday or anniversary of their death is approaching. Remembrance of the person who died will bring your friend comfort.
Above all, it’s important to grieve with a friend; to make time and space to be with them. Don’t worry about a plan or the ‘right approach.’ Trust yourself, your friendship, and the power of being present, and remaining present, days, weeks, and months after a loss.