Know your place
Grief is a deeply personal experience. You have a supporting role in your friend's grief. You may think you would do things differently if this had happened to you; however, follow his or her lead. Sitting with someone through their pain is not easy. Your friend will likely not be fully present in your relationship during this time. Do not take it personally and do not take your emotional pain out on your friend either. Find your own means of support while you stay strong for your friend.
It is comforting to know that someone believes in you and your ability to find peace of mind and heart again. Have faith in your friend that he or she will heal as they travel grief’s journey. Believe in, and when needed, believe for your friend that healing and being happy are possible in the future.
Mind the “firsts”
First time experiences without their loved one bring changes in traditions. These can be hard to face. Their loved one’s birthday, a holiday, and the anniversary of their loved one’s death each carry anticipated discomfort and a new experience of grief. You can plan ahead to be available for your friend. Be ready to come alongside your grieving friend to help them navigate these difficult days.
He or she may not know what is needed for them to travel this journey with grief in healthy ways. Let them navigate this grief journey at their own pace.
Attend to emotions
Signs of mourning may be more subtle after the funeral, yet grief’s healing journey for some can take years. Sadness, anger, worry, guilt, numbness, depression, loneliness, and envy all may surface on your friend’s journey. Discovering those places of forgiveness, peace, trust, joy, thankfulness, love, courage, and hope may be hard to find. Be open to exploring those difficult and draining emotions as you companion your friend in grief.
Become comfortable with tears to create a safe and intimate space for sharing. If you sense the hurt within you, cry with your grieving friend. Encourage him or her to have a good cry. Tears are a tribute to a relationship of love.
Understand function varies
Your grieving friend may find that he or she can function normally at work but not at home; or vice versa. Sometimes, dealing with the responsibilities of bringing closure to a loved one’s life is overwhelming, and yet daily life with the family is routine. Some will find they manage their emotions until they rise to the surface. Others cannot seem to break through the fog of emotions clouding even common sense and logic. Be understanding.
Identifying one’s needs, let alone determining who is best to help meet that need, is difficult while grieving. Propose specific offerings or activities in which you would like to help. Then be dependable until you are asked to stop helping.
Talk less, listen more
Invite your friend to share about the deceased loved one and how he or she lived. Share and inquire about the special nature of relationships and listen more than you talk. Listen carefully and sincerely, asking open-ended questions to help your friend explore his or her memories and feelings. Speak with support, affirming your friend’s words and experiences, without trying to correct, redirect, or solve any feelings perceived as negative. Give the gifts of silence, calmness, and understanding.
Speak about love
If open to this support, it is okay to comfort your friend with touch. Remind the bereaved of how much they were loved by their deceased loved one and are still loved by those who remain.
Acknowledge the truth
It may make you feel better to say circumstances will be better in the future; however, it may not be true, at least in the coming year. Simply state the truth: "This hurts and is difficult. I am with you and I love you."
Offer your knowledge
Your unique vocation or personal experience may help your friend. Remember, your experience with the loss of your loved one may offer unique direction and comfort.
This is a list of things you can do; however, be sure to offer the assistance first and be faithful to follow through if your offer is accepted.
Informing others repetitively about the death of a loved one can be very difficult for your friend. Ask permission if it would be helpful for you to call extended family and friends to inform them and share funeral arrangements.
Manage tasks together
The death of a loved one is overwhelming, presenting many new tasks that need accomplished, sometimes quickly. Follow your friend's lead in helping with these tasks. Offer to assist with paperwork he or she will need to navigate (making sure life insurance claims are filed, obtaining a death certificates, cancelling credit cards and bank accounts, understanding the deceased’s will, managing social security and going through all the accounts to be sure that they are aware of all the deceased’s finances). Your presence alongside them is powerful and important as they manage these new realities.
Attend the memorial service, unless it is a private family funeral. By doing so, you honor the life of the deceased as well as the relationship shared with your friend. Being present is important because we are sustained by the love and support of others.
Bring a meal
Numbed by grief, some people simply forget to eat. Bringing a meal prepared by someone else will encourage your friend and his or her family to eat regularly. Ask about dietary restrictions, food allergies or favorite foods before cooking or ordering this gift.
Help find support
If your friend is experiencing grief that affects his or her daily functioning, help them find a grief counselor that can assist them. Offer to attend a grief support group with them, giving them emotional support. Genesis Grief Support provides many services for those grieving. Read more at www.genesishealth.com/grief
Assist in everyday chores
Consider taking out your friend’s trash, refilling prescriptions, washing the dishes, shoveling snow, cleaning the house, shopping for food, bringing in the mail, walking the dog, washing the car, mowing the lawn, driving the kids to and from, washing clothes, etc. Take care of everyday tasks to allow your friend time for self-care and to navigate this time of transition.
Send a note
Mail a card or brief letter telling your friend that you care. Simply signing a sympathy card can be taken as impersonal, so state your love and support. Leave special notes and inspirational sayings through his or her home to be found throughout the day. Share memories about his or her loved one and how he or she touched your life.
Create a memory book, box or web page
Help your friend put together a unique place to collect pictures, stories and keepsakes of the person that died. Each linking object gives your friend an opportunity to connect with the special time enjoyed with his or her loved one and encourages the sharing of feelings.
Offer a gravesite visit
Your friend may like companionship when visiting his or her loved one’s gravesite. Keeping the gravesite clean and refreshed with flowers may also be of comfort to your friend as they honor and remember his or her loved one.
Plan an adventure
When the time seems right, help your friend embrace life again through simple pleasures. Take him or her to a place that may temporarily divert the experience of grief, such as sharing a movie, eating a meal or going to a museum. Even though your friend is hurting, he or she is allowed to enjoy life.
Get them Moving
Exercise is wonderful for the mind, body and spirit. Set a regular time with your friend to contribute to his or her overall wellness.
Above all show love. Be there. Stand in the gap that has opened in your friend's life. Be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Listen. Be present. Be a friend. Be love for love never fails.