It’s always difficult to witness a friend go through a hard situation. However, it is especially sensitive when you’re not sure how to make them feel better or what to do to help. Losing a loved one can completely tear apart a person’s life, and shatter them beyond instant repair. It’s an extremely painful thing to go through, and if you’re not careful with what you say or do, you could make them feel worse despite your opposite intentions.
Firstly, everyone deals with grief differently, and we all have our own unique coping mechanisms. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next one, and it’s important to remember this when attempting to comfort your friend. In many cases, the griever themselves isn’t even sure what they want to hear or how they want to be helped. The most significant thing to maintain throughout though is patience.
So, here is a list of what to do (and not do) when attempting to comfort a friend. Obviously this is subjective to each person and will differ in many situations, but here’s a good start.
- Stay in touch, often and repeatedly
Reaching out once the news has broken is crucial. A simple “I heard and I’m here.” initially is important. But it isn’t much help if it’s not consistent. Regular reminders that there is someone looking out for them can be extremely helpful.
- Listen to everything they have to say
It can be challenging to open up and talk about the deceased. Let your friend go their pace and don’t try to rush them. However, when they are ready to talk, listen to them with no intention of offering advice until they are done talking. Most (if not all) advice at an early stage can be generally off-putting and condescending, they just need someone to listen to them while they share their thoughts out loud
- Be specific with what you can help with
In many situations, the griever can barely see past the moment they are in to recognise that they need help with anything. Saying “I’m here if you need anything!” can be merely useless at times. Instead, try to be more specific in what you can do for them. “Are there any errands you need help with? Are there any school/uni assignments you need help with? Do you need a lift to work tomorrow? When’s the last time you went grocery shopping?” can be more productive and aid to your friend.
- Suggest an activity
Simple activities like going for a walk or a quick drive around for ice cream can be a big change in scenery for them. Getting them out the house eventually for fresh air and some sun can benefit their mental state greatly.
- Don’t put a positive spin on everything
This isn’t the time for silver linings. Let them sit in their sadness and express it freely without opposing intervention. It’s okay to be sad, for however long they need to. Let them wallow, cry and express all negative emotions in a safe and accepting space. Be ready to witness raw pain and anguish.
- Don’t compare it to something you went through unless its extremely similar
“I know how you feel” can be extremely pretentious if you haven’t gone through something very similar. Instead, use the phrase “I cannot possibly understand how you feel. But I’m here.” Alternatively, if you had gone through something similar, share what you thought through the early stages, and express your own loss in a way they can relate to. This will help them feel heard and minimise how isolated they could feel.
- Don’t push your own faith onto them
Though from a place of good-will saying “it’s all a part of God’s plan,” or “God never gives more than you can handle” isn’t necessarily something they want to hear right now (unless of course, they say it first).
- Don’t wait
Reaching out as soon as possible is better than 3 weeks later. The longer you wait, the more awkward you’ll feel when asking them how they are and what they need.
- Respect their space if they need it
Listen closely. They might not say it loudly, but sometimes your friend might need their space and not be able to express that. Try to pick up on cues and hints that show their discomfort in certain situations.
- Remind them to take care of themselves
“When was the last time you showered? Have you eaten today?” Simple questions like this can remind them to prioritise themselves for a bit.
- Don’t avoid reaching out in fear of “What if I remind them?”
Chances are, they’re definitely always thinking of it, or its always in the back of their minds. You acknowledging it will probably only soften the load of thinking about it alone.
- ‘Stages of grief’ can be complete bullshit
Supposedly, the stages of grief are a linear process. But I can guarantee it’s not. One day I could be on the final stage, then the next I’m on stage one again. Grieving is unpredictable, and uncontrollable.
- Ask them about their triggers
Certain seemingly insignificant things can be triggering, like a band they listened to with the deceased or certain special dates can be especially painful. Paying attention to these small details could make a world of difference to them.
- Ask “How are you today?” instead of “How are you?”
They’re not good. Obviously. Momentary questions draw closer attention to the ‘now’ instead of in general.
- Avoid judgement on how they grief
Everyone deals with pain differently. It could talk weeks, months or even years. They could want to talk about it right away, or only cry in silence, or spend their day sleeping. Let them cope. Interjecting with how they deal with it will only make an already troublesome situation direr.
- Remember, you can’t fix this
It is our nature to have a “fix it” attitude. But let’s face it, this can’t be fixed. Just be there for them.
- Consider ‘Signs’
It may not be for everyone, but looking out for ‘signs’ that your loved one is ‘looking over you’ can be extremely reassuring and acts as a healthy coping mechanism. My grandpa passed away 5 years ago, and since then, every time I return to his former house, I can feel him all around me. It may sound silly, but every first sunrise on our arrival is extremely extravagant and flamboyant. He used to photograph landscapes, so every time the sunrise is so dramatic, I feel his presence strongly with me.
Stay soft and kind. Your friend will appreciate your presence and feel loved and supported by you by the littlest of action during their rough days.