Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to comfort a grieving friend...

A short course in being supportive, when it is difficult to know how...

Life is full of so many wonderful experiences! We are so privileged to be able to experience and celebrate birth, marriage, new jobs, moves, and everyday joys in abundance! The part of life that can send us into a sense of panic and loss on how to cope, is the inevitable death of a loved one, or wishing to be of support to a friend who has suffered loss. Having recently experienced the loss of both of my parents, I wanted to share a few "Do's and Don't s" that may help you in supporting a friend experiencing the same.

Do call and offer your sincere sympathy for their loss. If the phone is not answered, be sure and end your message with, "No need to call back, I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you." After someone dies, there is an overwhelming amount of things to do...from contacting relatives, to planning a funeral, housing out of town guests, cancelling accounts, filing death certificates, etc...When a dozen well meaning calls end with, "Please call me right away", it feels overwhelming to have one more "to do" item on the list. A grieving person is overwhelmed with details; your "permission" to not have to call back will be a relief and a comfort to your friend.
Do send a card with a special story or memory. Cards can be saved and be reread many times. Don't underestimate this simple gesture.

Do bring food. It is difficult to eat when sad and burdened. It is even more overwhelming to try and decide what to serve the children, and visiting guests. What a huge help it was to see a smiling face at the door with a warm casserole and a big hug. Bring will never be turned away and will be most appreciated! If possible, bring something easily frozen for use later on.

Don't exclude your friend from gatherings and outings with others. It feels good to have a diversion from sadness, and even a simple glass of wine and loving company, can boost a mood more than you can imagine.

Don't begin lenthy conversations about how the loved one is in a better place, how time will heal the wounds, etc....just simple thoughts of, "I am so sorry for your loss", or "I'm here to support you in anyway" is much more helpful than a "lecture".

Do bring up the name of your friend's loved one often. Sometimes I felt as though people didn't want to talk about my parents for fear it would upset me. It was worse to feel as though everyone was avoiding the subject, so if you have a story or memory to share, don't be afraid to share it. It brings back the loved one's memory in such a positive way.

Do offer to help in non traditional ways. Can I tell you how helpful it was to have a friend offer to take the children for ice cream during the funeral visitation? Or, the friend who offered to sit with the children during the funeral. They were comforted and cared for while my husband I were listening to eulogies, or when I was consumed with my own grief. One friend carried a water bottle for me, kleenex, a sweater, and stayed close in case I needed something during the funeral and reception afterwards. Or, the friend who offered to spend a day with me to help pack up belongings from my parents home, and then stay the night to watch a movie. These gestures of kindness mean so much, and are such practical ways to show support. Do stop by and call weeks and months after the funeral to check on how your friend is doing. Everything is easier to cope with when there are two sets of footprints rather one. Often as time passes, we forget to inquire how our friend is coping...keep asking, keep offering to help, and keep up your friendship and support. The time you invest will not go unnoticed, and will make such a difference in your friend's outlook on the future! Most importantly, live your life fully and appreciate every moment...all any of us have is TODAY...savor it! :-)

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  1. This was a wonderful and timely post for me. We panic when someone we know loses a loved one and tend to forget these basic things. Thank you for thinking to put it all together so nicely.

  2. Some really good thoughts here...thanks for sharing.


  3. This was a beautiful post. My husband and I suffered the loss of our first daughter at birth. This subject of helping a friend in grief is very near to my heart as in our case, friends and family stumbled helplessly over our situation. On the other side, as the friend, I still find it difficult when trying to do the right thing when facing a friend who's suffering. Your suggestions are excellent. Thanks for sharing this with your readers.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I am often in the situation of supporting someone in this time and I have never been one to handle death very well. These are wonderful tips I will hang onto to remember! Thank you again!

  5. first, this is amazing and very well done...and well needed. second, the pics just make it more clear. love it! ur amazing!

  6. This is a well thought out list of how to help when someone loses a loved one. It's difficult to know the best thing, as each person does grieve differently. I do many of these things, I feel I can always offer food,and the note that can be looked at time and again is a heartfelt gesture.
    When we lost both of my husbands parents it was the small things that we remembered the most.
    Thank you for writing this, I know it's still something so close to home for you.

  7. I love this...You say it so perfectly...It is so hard to lose someone...And having a friend who understands helps so much! Thank you for the wonderful post...:) Meme

  8. Nice post Denise. I especially appreciat the need to go visit the friend a month later... when my dad died we had lots of people around until after the funeral and then it all went hard to cope, needing a shoulder to lean on...etc!

  9. So true...I have lost both my parents...and this is exactly what is needed when you walk through grief...Excellent post!


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