If someone close to you lost a loved one, you may suddenly feel helpless as well. You aren’t sure what to say or do, and you’re afraid once you do make an action that it will be the wrong one. People grieve differently. Some may seek you out for help, some may welcome the help you offer, and some just need time alone. There is no one perfect way to console a grieving friend, but here are some tips you may find helpful.
1. Ask them what they need.
Often times people who are grieving cannot even fathom getting out of bed. Reach out and ask them how you can help and what they need. Sometimes people don’t want to admit they would like help, so it may be best if you offer suggestions such as “Can I run to the store for you?” or “Don’t worry about Fluffy, I’ll stop by each morning on my way to work and walk him.” Just offer whatever you feel comfortable doing, and let them know you will be there if they think of anything else.
2. Stay in the present unless they talk of the past.
It’s typical to tell a grieving friend “They are in a better place.” or “They had a good life.” Whether or not these statements are true, it doesn’t help your friend with their current pain. Your intentions are good, but sometimes these words of optimism aren’t what the mourner needs or can even comprehend. Be honest and stay present with statements such as “I know you’re hurting. You don’t have to go through it alone, I’m here for you.” After the initial shock has passed, let your friend bring up the past.
3. Listen more than talk.
Sometimes when we are trying to console, we try to fill silences. We feel uncomfortable if it’s quiet when we are with them and assume they are thinking sad thoughts and just want to distract them, so we may tend to ramble. Robert Neimeyer, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis says, “We need to have big ears and a small mouth when we’re addressing a bereaved person.”(1) Let your friend know you are there to listen. Sometimes just sitting with them is what they need.
4. Share memories.
If your friend feels better by talking about their deceased loved one, share memories with them. If you did not know the person who died, ask to hear stories. Use the deceased’s name. Avoiding their name only highlights the fact that they are no longer with us. Using their name helps confirm that they will not be forgotten.
5. Offer suggestions of memorialization.
Funerals are typical, but your friend may find comfort in more. They may want to plant a tree in their loved one’s honor, create a scrapbook or shadowbox, or have a remembrance gathering.(2) If any memorial idea appeals to them, take the lead in setting it up for them.
6. Let go of time expectations.
Your friend may struggle in their grief for longer than expected. Continue to let them know you are there if they need anything. Remind them that people grieve differently and you are not judging them in any way.
7. Continue to reach out to them.
After a loss, there are people immediately present to offer condolences, help, and support, but after a few weeks or months your friend may suddenly feel alone because everyone moved on. Many times people offer help, but do not follow up later on to see if the grieving person needs anything. Be the person who follows up. Put calendar reminders in your phone or on your computer to reach out to them.
The most important thing you can do is simply let them know you care about them.
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