Friends Don’t Let Friends Grieve Alone
When a Friend Suffers a Loss
He was a policeman—a member of the “band of brothers”—and he knew he could count on any of his partners for protection no matter how dangerous the assignment. They would sacrifice their own lives for one another if the situation demanded. He never doubted they would be there for him.
Until he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. As his health rapidly declined, so did their visits. Eventually, the band was broken and he was alone.
Across town, there was a similar story taking place at a funeral home. A young woman was grieving the loss of her only brother. She scanned the crowd, longing to see the faces of her lifelong friends, but only one came to her side. Hurt, she wondered, “Where are the others?”
It’s a good question. Why don’t devoted friends visit when their presence is most needed? Are they lacking compassion? Fair-weather friends?
They are, unfortunately, all too normal. Avoiding family members or friends who are terminally ill or grieving is not uncommon. Nor is the reason for doing so— fear. The thought of saying the wrong thing or doing something that exacerbates a difficult situation can be paralyzing. Fear has prevented many meaningful interactions between loving individuals that could have—and should have—taken place.
Showing Support for Your Friend
There are simple steps you can take to help someone who has suffered a loss. Consider the following suggestions as a roadmap for how to do the right thing when it matters most.
Be present. If your friendship was important prior to the illness or death, know that it will be invaluable during the crisis. Don’t assume that your presence will be a burden on the family. Certainly they 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. Your quiet and supportive attendance may be all they need while they are hurting. By being there, you let them know they are loved, and that is the message they most need to receive.
Listen. It is important to 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 their feelings are normal given the situation and that you empathize with their pain. Avoid using platitudes to comfort. Saying, “I know how you feel,” or “Look on the bright side,” discounts their pain and may alienate them. Comments such as “This must be difficult” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this” are compassionate and understanding statements.
Act. Assess the situation and think of specific ways to assist. 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 for 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.
Reflect. Review the accomplishments of the individual. It is fitting and honoring to reflect on how this person has touched your life. Sharing special memories offers comfort to the loved ones and compliments the value of that life.
Follow up. Contact your friend after the crowd has returned to normal routines. Whether Even three and six months after the loss, call or stop by for a visit. Call your friend around holidays or special anniversaries and suggest doing an activity. It can be as simple as meeting for a cup of coffee or inviting them for dinner.
Remember that your offers may 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.