How to Care for a Grieving Friend by Giving Them Genuine Support
Losing a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most challenging experiences life throws at us. If you find yourself in the position of supporting a grieving friend, your role becomes both significant and delicate. Knowing how to support your friend in the best way at this incredibly sensitive time can make a world of difference for your friend, but it can also be tough on you.
It’s so important to recognise that everyone grieves differently. I’ve had friends who post their agonising pain on social media daily, and for them this is cathartic. For me, I retreated from life for a while, I protected my time and avoided seeing all but my very closest friends and family. Neither is wrong, as grief is a unique journey, and your friend may experience a range of emotions. It’s okay not to have all the answers or to understand exactly what they’re going through. What matters most is your presence and willingness to support them on this difficult and often long journey.
What Not to Do:
- Avoiding Them: Grieving friends often feel isolated. Instead of giving them space, offer your company. Sometimes, the best support is simply being there. Equally, respect their space. They may not want you around. Don’t feel offended, understand this is the grief and eventually they will feel more able to see you. Saying ‘I’m here for you’ in a card, but then leaving it at that, isn’t really being there for them. They absolutely will need you in some way, but may not know how to express that. They will be exhausted, in pain, and have a brain like a fog, you’ll most likely need to take the lead.
- Minimising Their Pain: Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “they’re in a better place” might come from a good place, but they can be hurtful. Acknowledge their pain without trying to rationalise it. Instead, how about ‘This is so awful what you are going through, but I’m here for you’ or ‘You must be missing your loved one terribly’ are honest and raw and not easy to say, but they will feel understood.
- Comparing Grief: Avoid saying, “I know how you feel” unless you’ve experienced a similar loss. Grief is intensely personal, and everyone’s journey is different. Instead ‘This must be so hard for you’ and ‘I’m so sorry you are going through this’ will validate their feelings.
- Dismissing Their Timeline: Grieving doesn’t follow a schedule. Don’t rush your friend to move on or get over it. Let them feel what they feel, when they feel it. The pain of grief requires sitting with the pain at times and it just has to be allowed to happen.
How to Show Your Support:
- Listen, Really Listen: Often, what grieving individuals need most is someone who will listen without judgment. Let your friend share their memories, fears, and frustrations. Often sitting in silence with them, with a nice warm drink and just being there is the best you can do.
- Practical Acts of Kindness: Grieving can be overwhelming, and daily tasks may become burdensome. Offer to run errands, cook a meal, or take care of any practical matters they might be struggling with. They may forget to eat, or may just be eating junk, which will not be good for overall health in the long term. Helping them to care for themselves is a great way to help their long-term wellness.
- Remember Special Dates: Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays can be especially tough for someone who is grieving. Acknowledge these days and offer your support. A card, a small bunch of flowers, or the offer of a coffee date will help them feel loved.
- Create a Memory Book: Collect messages, photos, and memories from friends and family. Presenting this thoughtful gift to your friend can be a beautiful way to celebrate the life of their loved one. When my partner died in 2001, a lovely friend of mine had a wooden memory box made, where I was able to store photos, cards and keepsakes. For a long time, it was painful to even open, but now I’m so grateful for it.
- Encourage Self-Care: Grieving often takes a toll on physical and mental health. Encourage your friends to engage in activities they enjoy, whether it’s taking a walk, reading a book, or indulging in a favorite hobby. My friend and I have both lost our mums and we found it very helpful to go on long walks in the countryside and just pour out our thoughts, pain, sadness, and frustrations to each other.
- Send Thoughtful Gifts: Consider sending a care package with items that bring comfort—a cosy blanket or socks, a journal, bath bombs, chocolate, soothing teas, or a personalised keepsake. Probably best to avoid alcohol though.
Sometimes, words can feel inadequate in the face of grief. Expressing your support through actions and gestures can speak volumes. Remember, there’s no “right” way to grieve or to support someone who is grieving. The key is to approach the situation with empathy, love, and a willingness to be there for your friend, no matter how long their healing journey takes.
Well done you, for reading this blog post and caring enough to want to be able to help. Unfortunately, many people do avoid those struggling with grief. When you have been through this, you do eventually understand that people simply don’t understand or know what to say.
But that doesn’t take away from the need for care and personal interaction during grief. Loneliness is one of the hardest feelings during grief and even if it’s incredibly awkward, it’s good to show up, let your friend know you are there for them, and be the best friend you can be.
CEO MJ Artisan Gift Box Co. BSc Hons, BACP