Friends Don't Let Friends Grieve Alone

When a Friend Suffers a Loss

When your close friends experience the death of a loved one, they often need your friendship and compassion more than ever. Yet a terminal diagnosis or death sometimes causes close friends and even family members to pull away from the people they care about most, perhaps out of fear of saying or doing the wrong thing or a sense of discomfort at confronting serious illness or grief.

Fear and uncertainty have prevented many meaningful interactions that could have—and should have—taken place between friends.

Showing Support for Your Friend

Some very simple steps can help you help a friend who has suffered a loss. Consider the following suggestions as a roadmap for how to do the right thing and be a best friend when it matters most.

1. Be present. If your friendship was important prior to an illness or death, know that it will be invaluable during a crisis. Don’t assume that your presence will be a burden. Your friend (or your friend's family) will have moments when privacy is necessary, but a crisis is not a time for isolation. Phone to say hello or to express sincere condolences. Write a friendly note or send a sympathy card. Offer your quiet and supportive attendance to ease their hurt. By being there, you let them know they are loved, the message they most need to receive.

2. Listen. Let friends know their emotions are safe with you. They need to be able to speak freely about conflicting thoughts without being interrupted or lectured. Reassure them that, given the situation, their feelings are normal and that you empathize with their pain. Avoid using platitudes like, “I know how you feel,” or “Look on the bright side.” These sayings can discount their pain and might alienate them. Instead, use open-ended compassionate and understanding statements, such as “This must be difficult” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” Let your friend do the talking.

3. Act. Assess the situation and think of specific ways to help. Instead of saying, “Let me know if I can help,” say, “Let me watch the children while you make the funeral arrangements.” Offer to pick up out-of-town guests from the airport. Organize a group of neighbors or friends willing to prepare meals, do laundry or clean house on different days of the week. Offer to make phone calls or run errands. By making specific suggestions, you are helping to relieve some of the common stressors associated with illness and death.

4. Reflect. Review the accomplishments of the person who has died. It is fitting and honoring to reflect on how this person has touched your life. Share special memories that comfort the survivors and validate the value of their loved one's life.

5. Follow up. Continue to stay in touch with your friend, even three or six months after the loss. Call or stop by for a visit. Suggest getting together for the holidays or on special anniversaries, extend a dinner invitation or simply offer to meet over a cup of coffee.

Yes, your offers might be declined, depending on what kind of day your friend is experiencing, but don’t let that deter you from presenting your support at another time. Your friend will forever remember with gratitude how you pushed beyond your fears to bring them comfort.

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