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How to support a grieving friend
by TeenHelp April 26th 2020, 01:25 PM

How to support a grieving friend
By Charlie (Counted Heart.)

It can be difficult to see a friend in pain, and even more so when youíre unsure of what you can do to help them. While every personís experience with grief is unique and itís important to tailor your support to the personís specific situation and individual needs, here are some things you should keep in mind and some general advice you can follow to start helping your friend through their journey with grief. Even if you have never been through grief yourself, you can still be there to support your friend during this time.

Remember that their grief is not about you.
You may have preconceived notions of what grief is like and how people react to it, but itís important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. People handle loss in different ways, and as long as the person is not causing deliberate harm to themself or someone else they should be allowed to grieve in the way that feels natural to them. For some people this might mean needing extra support and wanting to spend more time with loved ones, while others may pull away and need to spend a lot of time alone. Remember that your friend is in a lot of pain and this is likely a confusing and overwhelming time for them, so donít expect them to be at their best - and donít hold it against them when they arenít. While your friend is trying to find a way to cope with their loss they may say or do things that you find hurtful or inappropriate, but in most cases this is not their intent. A grieving person is essentially in survival mode, and you should be as understanding and forgiving as possible. With that said, you shouldnít put your own wellbeing at risk to support your friend, so make sure you have your own support network during this time as well.

Understand that each experience with grief will be different.

If youíve been through grief yourself it can be helpful to draw upon your own experiences in order to help your friend through theirs, and this can indeed be a great starting point. However, itís vital to keep in mind that your friendís experience will be unique and they may grieve in a very different way to you. They may also grieve differently for different losses, so even if they have been through something similar before that doesnít necessarily mean that theyíll handle it the same way this time. If youíre unsure how to help you may even find yourself doing research on the subject through books, websites, firsthand accounts, and other resources, which can all be a good way to bolster your knowledge and give you tools to help your friend. These are, however, only a first step, and you should always adjust your approach to suit the specific situation. If your friend doesnít respond to one type of support, that doesnít mean they donít need your help; it just means that you may need to try a different approach. A grieving person turning away an offer of help is not a reflection of their feelings about you or the friendship, and you should try not to take it as a personal attack.

Keep communication lines open.
While it can be helpful to give a grieving person space when they need it, there can often be a fine line between giving them space and leaving them alone in their grief. The fact that your friend isnít directly asking for help doesnít necessarily mean that they donít need it. Someone going through grief may be unable to ask for help because it involves emotional and mental energy that has been diverted to simply surviving. Asking for help on their end requires them to first pinpoint what they need and then identify who can help with it - and then find the time and energy to be able to communicate that to the person. Even then thereís no guarantee that their request for help will be honoured, and if they donít receive the help they worked so hard to ask for they may not be able to reach out again. Itís far better for you to be the one reaching out, as it takes the emotional burden away from the grieving person, shows them that you care and are willing to help, and allows them to reciprocate rather than initiate. Be aware that your friend may not respond to messages in a timely manner, or sometimes even at all, but this doesnít mean they donít appreciate your efforts. One of the worst things you can do is become angry at or frustrated with your friend, as that can cause them to feel even more isolated and unsupported.

Be specific and proactive.
Grief is an exhausting and emotionally complicated thing, and knowing what would help can be difficult for both the grieving person and their loved ones. It can be tempting to reach out with an all-encompassing statement such as ďIím here for youĒ or ďLet me know if thereís anything I can do to helpĒ, but that might be too vague for your friend to be able to work with. There may be so many things they need help with that they wonít be able to narrow it down, or they might be unable to pinpoint what exactly they require. It's usually better to extend offers of help that are both doable and specific. For example, asking your friend ďIs there anything I can do?Ē may be too overwhelming for them, but asking ďWould it help if I did [activity or task]?Ē requires a much simpler response on their end. What you can offer will depend on the unique situation, so it can help to look at your friendís existing support network and what else is going on in their life at the time. Your friend may need help with everyday tasks, such as shopping, household chores, and personal hygiene (e.g. by reminding them to shower). They may want somebody to talk to, or a distraction to keep their spirits up, or a regular activity to look forward to. By making specific offers, such as ďWould you like me to cook dinner for you this Friday?Ē or ďWould you feel up to having a board game night this weekend?Ē you will not only help your friend feel included and supported, but also allow them to dedicate emotional energy elsewhere instead of having to filter through their emotions and process their situation to assess their needs. Again, be understanding if your friend doesnít respond in the way you expect or want them to. Even if they arenít able to express it at the time, they likely still appreciate your efforts.

Donít make assumptions.
The more you understand about your friendís situation, the better equipped you will be to help them. Instead of making assumptions about what they need, how theyíre feeling, or what other support theyíre receiving, try to talk to them about it so that there are no misunderstandings. Even if youíre not the personís closest friend, donít assume that their other friends or family members are providing sufficient support for them. Itís not uncommon for a grieving person to report that the experience showed them who their real friends are, as people they thought they could rely on failed to step up while people they werenít as close to came to their aid in unexpected ways. The worst case scenario if you do step up is your friend receiving more offers of help than they need; the worst case scenario if you donít step up is that nobody else does either, leaving your friend not only grieving but feeling abandoned as well. Where possible, try not to guess your friendís emotional state. A grieving personís outward appearance and behaviour may not be an accurate reflection of their emotional and mental wellbeing. Someone who is crying a lot and talking about their loss may be less in need of support than somebody who appears put together and is keeping up with their day-to-day activities. The former may be expressing their emotions in a healthy way, while the latter may be putting on a brave face because they donít feel safe enough to say how they really feel. Make it a habit to check in with your friend, and create a safe, judgement-free space for them to talk about how theyíre doing - but, as always, donít be upset if they donít take you up on the offer.

Bear in mind that it may be a long journey.
Although it may seem like the first few days and weeks following a loss can be the most difficult to deal with, the truth is that grief is rarely a strictly linear process. Some people may forge through the first few months after a loss before falling apart later on, while others may seem to bounce back and forth between coping well and needing a lot of support. In many cases the amount of support a person receives decreases as time passes; house calls gradually cease, people stop checking in, anniversaries pass without comment. Grief, however, doesnít fade as quickly, so your friend will still need support for months or even years afterwards. The amount and type of support they need will change as they come to terms with their loss, so be sure to make changes as necessary. Try to check in with your friend regularly, such as sending them a message once a week or going over to their house once a month, and take note of important dates like anniversaries so that you can be there if your friend needs extra support. Be aware that most offers of support taper off after the immediate aftermath, so putting in the extra effort can really help your friend weather the grief that comes after that.

Take care of yourself as well.
As you support your friend through their grief, itís important to be aware of your own wellbeing. You shouldnít be your friendís only source of support, so, where appropriate, encourage them to reach out to friends, family, mental health professionals, and other relevant resources. Some places have grief support groups or specialised counsellors, so it may be a good idea to help your friend locate and access these. When discussing this with your friend, be clear about the fact that you want them to get the support they need because you care about them and want them to be able to cope with their grief in healthy ways, not because you donít want to help them or because you think theyíre a burden. Someone whoís dealing with grief may have intense emotional reactions, so do your best to reassure them that youíre there to help them and want whatís best for them. With that in mind, you should also be sure to establish and maintain boundaries so that your friendís grief doesnít become overwhelming for you as well. Know your limits and what help youíre both willing and able to provide, and make sure your friend is aware of this as well. If you can, lean on your own loved ones during this time so that you can help your friend without being your own sole support system. You can help your friend without putting your own health at risk.

The most important thing to remember when helping a grieving friend is that theyíre going through something tragic and probably terrifying, and that means that they wonít be able to hold up their end of the friendship very well. Itís up to you to pick up the slack in the friendship and be the more active participant for the time being. This is likely one of the worst times of your friendís life, so they wonít be at their best. By being there for them youíre helping ease some of their pain and help them stay afloat, which will preserve the friendship and allow your friend to grieve safely. And, if the friendship is a stable and healthy one, someday they may be able to return the favour.

Last edited by cynefin; April 26th 2020 at 01:43 PM.
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