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How To Help A Friend Deal With Bereavement

While it is true we cannot bring the deceased person back to our grieving friend, we can ease our friend's distress.

No one wants to see a friend suffering from grief but when our friend has lost someone they care deeply about they will have to grieve. Grieving is the natural emotional response to loss. But, it's a painful emotion to observe in anyone but even more so when it's our friend.

No one wants to see a friend sad. It's instinctual that we wish to ease their pain. Sometimes, because we cannot change the fact that someone has died, we feel we cannot be helpful. While it is true we cannot bring the deceased person back to our grieving friend, we can ease our friend's distress.

Here are a few suggestions on how to go about it.

First, be empathic by staying present to them and being aware of their body language and sighs, their words or even their lack of words. Also, make every effort to get to your friend as soon as you can after hearing of his or her loss particularly if the person who has died was a significant part of your friend's life.

Second, attend the service or memorial. Normally there is a viewing the night before or on the day of the service. Make a concerted to get there because your bereaved friend will always remember who took the time to come and who didn't.

Third, say sensitive things while reminding your friend of meaningful times with the lost one. For example, "Marilyn, your mom was so funny. I remember when we were kids and she dressed up as an elf every year during the holiday. I'm so sorry for your loss." Or, "Joe, your dad was the most patient man I ever knew. I remember how he took care of your mother after her stroke. Such loyalty and devotion he gave to her."

Fourth, take your friend's hand, touch them on the shoulder and hug them. Their body hurts now because it is aching with the absence of the lost person and your compassionate touch will be comforting.

Fifth, tell them you will be there for them no matter how long they are grieving. You see, the world wants us to hurry up and get on with things. This demand — whether from society or others in your friend's life — doesn’t work with the grieving process because loss, as love, is embedded deep in our souls and it cannot be rushed.

Sixth, send a card or note every few weeks or shoot out a short email telling them you are thinking about them or praying for them. A pot of soup left by their door in a cooler would also be appreciated.

Seventh, remove from your speech this sentence, "I know how you feel." No one really knows how we feel even when the circumstances are similar; because each of us is unique with our own feelings.

Eighth, remember the Beatitude, "Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted" or St. Francis of Assisi's eternal message, "Where there is despair, hope." 

My parting thought on how to comfort a friend who is grieving is to give them the hope that they will make it, the consolation that you will help them in any way you can and the knowledge that you are only a phone call away.

Wendy Monaghan January 31, 2012 at 01:10 PM
My son died May 29th. Everything you said in your column is true.I would just add that for the person coping with the loss of a loved one they don't know day to day how they will feel. One of the hardest parts for me is I know when people look at me they feel sadness. That is so hard for me because I have spent my entire life trying to bring people joy.It's also hard for me when I realize the last picture taken of him is the last and he will never change, I will miss his voice and smell and will never hear or smell him again. It's like he's frozen in time and can no longer grow. I miss Ryan so much and my heart will ache for the rest of my life but I know I am also blessed that I was his mother and was able to share 27 years with him.
Mary Jane Hurley Brant February 09, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Dear Wendy, My heart aches for you. People are looking at you with compassion and that is a good thing. Let their eyes embrace your pain. Let people help you as much as you can. Such a loss you are going through without your young son. I had not seen your comment until today. Please email me (maryjanebrant@gmail.com) if you would like to come to a monthly support group I began called "Mothers Finding Meaning Again" which costs only your time and a small snack. We have 22 moms now and you would be greeted with love and acceptance. We meet the 4rd Wed. of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. This march will be our 3rd anniversary being together. Peace be with you and your family, MJ

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