You would think experiencing loss yourself would prepare you for how to help friends dealing with grief, but it doesn’t. The days of being quagmired in your pain are fuzzy and you’ve worked so hard to put them behind you.
Aiding your loved ones through the grieving process can seem especially hard if you haven’t experienced exactly what they’re going through, too. This can be particularly dicey if you, yourself, don’t see why their loss is such a big deal. This can be the case for friends dealing with grief over the loss of a pet, bad grades or anything you may view as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And don’t even get started on all of the issues you face in your own life! You can’t forgive yourself for the experiences you’re still grieving, let alone try to help someone else.
The reasons you feel like the person with the least know-how on how to help friends dealing with grief are the exact reasons you’re the perfect person to do it.choose happiness quotes Go through any list of . You’ll find the fastest and most popular way to help yourself is to help someone else.
If you find yourself feeling lost at the time of your friends’ greatest need here are some powerful tips to get you started. Remember every person is different. Stay receptive to their personal requests for more (or less) of any action item and take nothing personally while they’re grieving. They may not be able to see past the need to simply put one foot in front of the other, let alone realize how much you care.
1. Anticipate their needs.
Like I said, your friend may barely be able to eke out the basics of day to day living for awhile. That means general statements like, “let me know if you need anything” will likely have the opposite effect. They don’t know what they need. By the time they do you’ll be the furthest thing from their mind as they go into survival mode.
When someone you love is in the midst of grief the most helpful thing you can do is anticipate their needs:
- Could they use a healthy meal (instead of the quick, junk food fix they resort to)?
- Do they have trusted resources for subsequent problems they may face as a result of the loss? Create a go-to list of important people:
- therapist or life coach,
- handy man,
- baby sitter,
- job recruiter … just to name a few.
- They may not “need” a ride to their obligations following loss but it’s a great way to help out and create the time to be together.
- Take some of the day to day off of their plate when you can.
- Walk their dog (or go with them),
- take the kids for ice cream,
- pop by with a meal and stay to do the dishes.
- run the vacuum while you’re there,
- grab the to-do list and jump in with phone calls and scheduling for necessary appointments.
Listen for their feedback and honor it without judgement. If they want to stay busy with the cleaning but would rather listen to you talk about your day instead of their grief, do that. Anticipating their needs got you in the door and helps keep you top of mind. That’s the most important thing to know about how to help friends dealing with grief as they may be tempted to isolate themselves completely.
2. Let them lead.
While your buddy is in the midst of grief there will be days they can face the world (including you and your good will) and days they cannot.
Don’t assume that what seemed helpful last week will be as helpful this week.
Give them permission to say it’s too much or too little. When spurned, remember it’s not personal at all. Your dearest’s inability to receive has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with what they can process in any given moment.
3. Be a safe place for their emotions.
If, or when, your friend wakes up from the denial stage of their grief they will immediately be smacked with every single unaddressed emotion they’ve ever had. Frustration, confusion, guilt, abandonment, inequity…you name it, they’re going to feel it. The problem for you as their support system is that it won’t look like any of those things.
Suppressed, negative thoughts and feelings wear Anger’s face when they finally emerge.
They need to safely feel all the feelings!! As uncomfortable as it is for you to witness, it is of utmost importance that your pal processes everything that surfaces without admonishment.
|Best Phrases||Worst Phrases|
|“Help me understand what you mean (or how you feel).”||“I know how you feel.”|
|“So you feel ________? Rephrasing comments, helps them hone in on what’s beneath the anger”||Passive listening phrases like,”mmhmm,” “uh huh,” or “yeah.”|
|“You’re allowed to feel what you feel.”||“Awww, don’t feel that way. That’s not true.”|
|“There’s a lot to unpack in this process. There’s no “wrong” way to feel while you’re healing.”||“When do you think you’ll be able to move on?” or “Didn’t that happen over a year ago?!”|
|“Grief is a difficult process. You’re doing so well.”||“When ______ happened to me, I just ___________.”|
You’ll find, over time, what they know logically (they’re equipped for this, have loving friends, a bright future, etc) doesn’t jive with what they feel. Let them know this is normal and when they’re ready (Tip 6) there are some self care steps to take when they feel guilty about having it all and still feeling terrible.
At various points in the grieving process, as memories arise, you’ll witness happiness. Joy, even. Heartbreak hits when the gut punch of reality follows that euphoria like a toxic cloud.
It’s because of that very phenomena that people are often hesitant to bring up the past at all. Yet it is how to help friends dealing with grief in the most authentic way possible.
If your friends don’t make room for the light in their experience, the dark will rapidly consume them. Be intentional with this step. Create the space for positive feelings about the past and the future. This helps them move through the grief. Eventually, they’ll have the bandwidth to make sense of the pain and grow as a result of their experiences.
As long as memories of joy exist in one’s heart looming pain will remain life’s temporary gift. Deny the light, however and the darkness will become all consuming and utterly useless.
5. Ask them for help
Denial (shock, tuning out) is the first stage of grief. People need that dissociation to get through the initial busy-ness that loss creates.
However, without a sense of purpose or direction people easily get stuck in this phase for years. As their support systems move on or feel helpless, your friends may lose sight of who they are and the good they bring to the world.
Telling friends who are grieving that they are still vital and important will only reach the Limited (conscious) Mind. Any of us can pros/cons ourselves to death at that level. Showing them they play in important role in your life with a request for their help, however, reaches into their Expansive Mind (highest wisdom). Ideas include:
- Ask them to help you process through a problem of your own.
- Ask for their company during possible vulnerable events in your life
- Doctors appointments,
- lawyer visits,
- attend an event where your ex will be,
- Shopping for bathing suits, bras or jeans.
- Invite them to an activity that helps you feel connected and healed
- meditation retreats,
- a night on the town,
- or a long drive.
You want them to understand that this is about you. You need their support this time. Thank them for their time. Be specific about the reasons you’re grateful. “I know I could’ve handled this on my own but you’re such a calming presence it was a lot easier having you here.”
5. Check in…about everything.
Whatever you’re hesitant to talk about is probably the topic you (and your friend) most need to discuss. Be fearless.
If they’re prattling on about everything except their pain. Ask them how they’re feeling and use the phrases from Tip 3 to clarify as necessary.
When they become quagmired in their grief, help them process. At a natural transition point ask about other aspects of their life. Specificity will help them dive deeper then the “meh” they’re tempted to give. Rather than, “how’s work” ask, “is your company still planning on a move?”
Treat them like a whole person who has both positive and negative experiences going on at the same time. You’ll help them remember there are more aspects to their existence than loss.
6. Push when it’s time.
If you see them buried so deep in their bare-necessities existence that you fear they may not emerge…push. Gently.
Seek out their boundaries. Be a partner with them in the “pushing the envelope process.”
- Encourage them to prepare or ask for a promotion.
- Take a Scuba lessons together.
- Redecorate, or at least rearrange, a room in their house.
- Go test drive a dream vehicle, just for fun.
Be creative here. If they won’t budge, refer to Tip 5.
Demonstrate their light through your experience of them so they don’t forget, altogether, that their vibrancy still in there somewhere.
I’d guess that the majority of people really don’t know how to help friends dealing with grief. At least not with any confidence. The main theme, of course, is just show up. Meet them where they are. Then partner with them when there’re signs to move forward.
Thank you for being the kind of friend your friend deserves.
It means the world to me that you’ve read this article. I have a special place in my heart for people like you, who show up to their life and the lives of others. Leave a comment below to let me know:
- What you’re excited to try first.
- Can you think of something I missed?
- If you’ve tried some of these and gotten stuck, tell me about it. Let me try to help.
The truth is, we’re all grieving (at various stages) all the time. Life is a perpetual cycle of gains and losses. If we grieve healthfully, our trials build efficacy, strength and resiliency. When we don’t know how to process the pain, however the resulting suffering and jadedness isolates us from the experiences we need most. If you, or someone you know, feels depleted rather than emboldened by your losses I encourage you to take start with this FREE EBOOK and sign up for the tools in Conscious Transitions: A Home Study Course in Grief & Growth. It’s non-threatening and simple yet incredibly powerful as it redefines your life experiences to work in your favor. Mention this article when you sign up for 2 free months of Membership Coaching.