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How to support a grieving friend

09 July 2020

"We rise by lifting others."

Robert Ingersoll

Seeing a friend in pain can be truly heartbreaking and supporting them as they are grieving can be extremely difficult. What do you say? How do you act? Do they need space? How much contact is too much? Each individual is different but what we do know about grief is that doing it alone makes it all the harder.

Here are some helpful tips initially to support you in being there for a friend as they go through a challenging time, while still caring for your own mental health and wellbeing.


Listen

This seems so simple but it is the most important for your friend in their grief. Let them grieve. Let them feel. They might be sad, angry, hurt, or even just want to share stories about their loved one. This is their time and you can be there in whatever capacity they need.

You don’t need to say the right thing or have the perfect words at this time. Sometimes saying nothing at all is best. “I’m here” is enough and “I’m listening”. This shows you care.

Comfort in, dump out

Being there for a friend when they’re grieving can be emotionally challenging. Especially if you were also close to or know the person they’ve lost. You’re dealing with your own grief while also trying to support someone you love.

It’s important to remember though at this time that there are circles around the person in grief and ways to channel and handle that emotion. The most important person is the person closest to the loss. So the support and love should all flow into them. The rings of support go out from there and although we may feel challenged, any need to release or offload should go to the circle out from us.

A Los Angeles Times article shared the importance of this recently and explains it well here. Simply remember comfort in, and dump out. Support first, vent outwards second.

Check in

Asking for help can be challenging when grieving. Overwhelmed by sadness or supporting family members may become all-consuming. Your friend may not be able to reach out to tell you they need support, so it’s much easier if you just let them know you are there.

A simple love heart emoji or “I’m thinking of you” text can be enough to show your friend that you are there. It gives them the opportunity to reach out if they need, or just understand that you are there thinking of them even if you can’t be with them.

Offer practical help

It can be difficult for a person in grief to know what they want or need at any one time. Knowing your friend as you do, just jumping in with clear and helpful offers can save them the mental load of working out what they need.

Dropping round a cooked meal. Asking for a day that would be good to come and clean the house. Offering to pick something up from the shops while you’re there anyway. Helping with any arrangements for family that might ease the load. Clear and simple offers can support your friend immeasurably when they may not be able to vocalise what it is they need.

Be there

Whether it’s a text message, a call or a visit, being available for your friend at this challenging time can be the most important gift of all. Simply sitting silently beside a friend who is hurting may be the most generous thing you can do. If it's not possible to be there physically, letting them know that you are with them whenever they need it will give great comfort at this difficult time.

If you need support and would like to gain some more understanding around grief and supporting someone in grief, visit the Centre for Care and Wellbeing page here.