Grief can be a bit of a mine field for those supporting a bereaved friend. You want to ‘get it right’ for your friend, but you may feel unsure what the right thing to do is. Another anxiety can be what to say. Are you afraid of saying the wrong thing, or making things worse? I always say to people that I imagine it would be hard to make it any worse than it already is, so don’t worry. Saying anything rather than nothing, is the best way forward.
Here are ten things you could consider while you support your friend through this difficult and emotional time of bereavement.
Don’t compare, each bereavement has its own landscape –
Even if two people have died of the same disease, or the same way, there will be many differences in their experiences. Comparing them somehow diminishes your friend’s experience. However similar it appears, it will feel unique to them.
Don’t feel hurt if your friend rebuffs your offers to join you, sometimes the bereaved need to be alone –
Grief can be very overwhelming and immensely tiring. Your friend needs time to rest, time to absorb what has happened and alone time. This is natural and normal. What you could look out for perhaps, is when alone time becomes isolation all of the time. Then I would encourage you to step in and see what is going on. It’s a fine line, but trust your instincts.
Don’t stop your friend talking about their loved one repeatedly; they need to do this -
The urge to talk about the one who has died is primal. You cannot stop it, nor should you. It is one way in which your friend can start to make sense of the death and the impact of it. People need to go over the story again and again as a way of processing their feelings and it also keeps the one who has died metaphorically close at a time they are struggling with the idea of not seeing them again. Try and be patient with that and don’t stop them.
Don’t avoid mentioning the dead person’s name –
Your friend wants you to talk about their loved one. They want to hear their name and to know that you remember them. He might like to hear stories about the one who died because that means that you have not forgotten that person. It brings them closer to the person who died too. That continues for a long time. In the same way, if you have any photos or little film clips on your camera, why don’t you send them to your friend. I am sure they will be gratefully received. If you feel anxious about that, just ask them first.
Don’t relate stories about similar deaths –
Suffice to say, it just isn’t helpful, and also it is meaningless, because your friend is very much in his or her world with their own experiences. Try to focus your attention on what will help, support, nourish and comfort your friend. No additional burdens are needed at this time.
Don’t touch or throw away anything without asking, you don’t know what memory clings to that particular object -
It is lovely that you want to help your friend, but if they get to the point where they are ready to sort out the person’s belongings, or give them away, be careful what you dispose of. The smallest of things can have significance for your friend. It is probably safer to stick alongside them in that job and ask before you decide to get rid of anything.
Don’t pressurise the bereaved to go back to work before they are ready -
You might feel enough time has passed or that your friend ought to go back to work because they will feel better if they do. I am sure these sentiments come from a caring place but truthfully, some bereaved people just cannot face their job any time soon. In fact, they might need a change of job. They may feel very wobbly, very emotional, unable to concentrate, very exhausted and quite unable to get back to work. Try and respect this and remember that they are not the same person they were. In time, they will be stronger and more resilient but in the first 1 – 2 years, this is sometimes not the case.
Don’t cross the road when you see them –
Your grieving friend may behave in ways that stretch your empathy and friendship. It is not unknown for friends to fall out when one of you is bereaved. The saying goes that grief rearranges your address book
. Try not to be that person, they are probably feeling lonely and isolated and your friend needs you. It is really hard to be the one that sticks by a grieving friend long term. I call those people ‘stickers
’. You need to be resilient and take care of yourself too but try and be the one who stays a long-side your friend. Your relationship will be the richer for it in the long-term.
Don’t judge when your friend starts a new life, they’d rather have their loved one back any day –
I wonder how you will feel when your friend starts really living again. Perhaps he is going out more, has a new partner, got a new job or is traveling more. It is easy to slip into judgements about that. To name a few, “well obviously he didn’t love her as much as I thought”; “I just can’t believe he is dating already”. Life does go on and irrevocably, your friend’s life will grow in ways he could not have anticipated despite his grief. To keep living, your friend must engage with life once again, but don’t mistake that for forgetting, he won’t be doing that.
Don’t feel jealous when your friend is able to break away from you and do other things –
As I said above, in the end life grows around people’s grief. If you have been ‘a sticker
’, you may have enjoyed the intimacy with your friend, that sense of being in the middle of it all; it can feel very intense for a long time. Then over a longer period of time that changes and your friend may not need you so much. Try not to feel jealous about that. She has had a difficult time and is slowly emerging through the mist to a new and changed life. If your friendship has survived intact, then there is a strong bond between you which will endure.
If any readers have suggestions to add to the above, please join the conversation below.
Photo credit: Mathias Klang / Foter / CC BY