Helping a Grieving Friend

In the wake of a great tragedy or personal loss we turn first to the people we trust — our friends and family; making each of us a potential resource in helping another to overcome his or her grief. But when faced with the responsibility of supporting someone in this time of need, people often find it difficult to know just what to say or how to act.

After over a decade of serving families in my community, my observations and experience have taught me that there is no “right” way to help someone who is grieving. As I am sure we all know as parents and friends, children and co-workers, no two people are exactly alike. There is, however, a common thread that runs through each personal experience with grief. It is not about knowing the perfect thing to say or do, but often the simple act of being there that helps the most.

People often feel like they don’t know what to say at a time like this. Even when you are unsure of the best course of action to support someone, it is important to simply be there for them. They will communicate to you what their needs are. Simple acts, such as listening or offering a hug or handshake will be a great show of support. Your physical presence and willingness to listen are more important than having the perfect sentiment.

The old adage about time healing all wounds is somewhat true. However, many people experience a renewed sense of grief long after the death — at the holidays or on anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions where the decedent was present before. Reach out to friends and family who have lost someone on these days to show your continued understanding and support.

Grieving is a very personal process unique to each individual. Try not to judge a person’s feelings or coping methods. Be open and ready to listen without offering advice. Do not react when someone expresses feelings of anger and bitterness but instead allow and even encourage these expressions without judgment. Remember, just as there is no right or wrong way to grieve; there is no wrong way to help someone who is enduring the grieving process.