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Supporting a Friend Through Grief

It’s daunting to think about how to support a friend through their grief. You’re worried about being lost for words, saying too much, saying the wrong thing or upsetting them. I’m writing this article to help you have a conversation with your friend. You are the one who knows your friend, so take what you think might help and test it.

There’s a few suggestions, so take the bits that work for you and leave the rest. You might even try something and customise it to your friend. I’ve also suggested something your friend could do to help you.

Clients are told to see me because…

I’m often faced with clients who have been told to see me because their friends think they’re crazy, and they’re starting to believe it too. The thing is you’re not crazy, you’re grieving, and I wanted to write this to let you know that you’re not crazy. And give your friend this article to let them know how to be with you while you’re grieving.

It’s Tough

Often it’s difficult for people to sit with you in your grief because they don’t know what to do and how to fix you, or fix what you’re going through and make life better for you. Your friends will often try to make you laugh. Sometimes this is because they can’t sit with their own thoughts and feelings of the “What ifs…” What if my partner, or child died too, what if they left me alone?

It feels awful and uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s shown as frustration because they’re living their life normally, and you aren’t. It wasn’t their loved one and they want you to step back into life very quickly. So that’s a bit of an explanation as to why they are, like they are.

Relationships change

It might be easier to write what you’d like them to say and do. You can take the time to think about how your life has changed and how they can add to it rather than make it worse. You want to build you friendship/relationships because they change or can even disappear through grief.

It’s such a highly emotive time in the beginning, and can be filled with lots of silence, suffering, hurt and pain.

Now here come the instructions for them

Dear friend (write their name),

I’d love you to support me in a different way to what you have been. I want you to be in my life because I love your support. I know you want to do the best for me at my time of need. However, the way you’re doing it right now is upsetting and diminishing my growth. I feel like you’re telling me I have to get over him by forgetting he ever lived and get on with my life. I know that you’d feel bad if I told you this, so I’m writing this letter to give you some tips and hints that you can choose from.

When you say come on, cheer up, you need to get on with your life because your partner (whatever their name is) would want you to, I want you to say ‘I know you’re missing your partner, and it’s really difficult to step back into your life again. But I’m here with you no matter what and how long it takes’.

I appreciate you just sitting with me in my sadness. I know I’m not my self right now, I’ll eventually step back into my life and be more comfortable to be me. I want you here, alongside me on this crazy ride.

Thanks so much for supporting me through my grief and being so patient.

Lots of love from (your name).

Why you’re doing this

Writing what you want the person to do will make it less stressful for you, and it could open up a conversation about your grief and how you really feel, rather than hiding behind that mask of happiness all the time. Grief is lonely, and you are alone in your grief because you were the one who had a relationship with your loved one. People don’t understand the depth of it, or how your relationship was in private. They don’t know the ups and downs of your real life relationship.

Share your story with those you trust. You could write or record what you want to share about your grief, more of what you can share with your friends, of what not to say, and something to help them to remember what to say to you.

Don’t try to make your friend/family happy, they need to work through their grief and make sense of it themselves. They don’t need a silver lining right now, they’ll work it out themselves.

What follows is a general list of what not to say. That’s easier to write because most grievers have heard these and have felt angry or misunderstood by these statements.

 

Here’s the list:

What not to say…

They wouldn’t want you to cry

Be strong

They’ve gone to a better place

Only the good die young

God never gives you what you can’t handle

At least you know you can fall pregnant (often said to women after a miscarriage)

It was God’s will

They lived a long, good life

At least they’re not suffering anymore

It must be a relief that you’re not burdened anymore

You can live your life now

What to say…

I encourage you as a friend to just show up. Your grieving friend will remember who was there in the beginning and how they felt during that time. The best thing you can do is show compassion and be present.

I can speak from experience on this

A bit of background to my story

We found out I was pregnant with twins right in the middle of building a new home. Before we could move in I was put in hospital due to it being a high-risk pregnancy. It was a brand new suburb when my husband moved in with our 2 year old daughter, they met all the neighbours and started to form friendships.

I was in hospital for 15 weeks, our daughters were born at 24 weeks gestation and a week later our youngest daughter died. My husband planned the funeral and wake on his own because I was ill, still in hospital and unable to be with him.

So the first time I met any neighbours was at the funeral. People I didn’t know were coming up to me hugging me and telling me who they were. Apparently they told me stories my husband had been sharing with them about what’s been happening in our lives. I only remember the faces and that they were so loving and caring. We became great friends after that. All because they were natural around me.

It’s going to be uncomfortable for a while

Know that it’ll be uncomfortable for a while but hang in there, your friend will learn how to live their life alongside their grief. This is a natural part of grieving, be present, that’s all they want. You really don’t have to say anything at all, know that your presence is gold.

Knowing what to say is a little trickier because you need to know how to support your friend. People feel things differently, hopefully they’ve written a letter to help you support them.

In the beginning in general the following few suggestions will help.

In general you can say…

I love you

I’m here for you

Share memories of their loved one

I want you to know I care about you

I wish I had the right words but know I’m here for you

The take away message, for the friend of the grieving.

Be you, that’s what your grieving friend loves about you. Be natural, know that it will be uncomfortable but will get to be more natural and your grieving friend will learn and understand their grief. They’re creating their own life, the way they want to live it.

Sometimes they’ll need professional help. Be in your friend’s life.

I read this quote somewhere and love it. If anyone knows who said it, please let me know because I use it all the time. “Show up, shut up and listen with your heart.”

I hope this helps? Email me (cait@juliea67.sg-host.com) with any insights or questions or your experience, I love hearing from you.

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