Grief is awkward and difficult; it’s something we tend to shy away from if we can help it. If you have never experienced grief, you may be at a loss to know what to say or do. Here are some hints from someone who has been there and come out the other side stronger.
You Don’t Need to Say the Right Thing
In fact, you don’t need to say anything at all. You just need to be there.
It may not feel like much, but your physical presence alone is a comfort—a hug, a hand to squeeze, a presence in the room. These are all important crutches when someone is navigating grief. Remember that you can’t fix this; all you can do is open your arms and open your heart.
Try to Steer Clear of Platitudes
The discomfort and awkwardness outsiders often feel toward grief has given rise to many platitudes over the years. Personally, I would steer clear from saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “It is God’s will.” Even someone with the strongest faith will find that hard to swallow.
Many platitudes are focused on trying to make the griever focus on the future and move on. While the intent is admirable, I just didn’t want to hear that time is a healer and how all would be fine. My grief is a burden I carry with me every day, and while it is true that I have learned to bear the weight of it (most of the time), I will never “get over it.”
Try to consider your friend’s beliefs and values before offering words that you feel may be of comfort. Some things said with the best intention can actually be frustrating.
Try to remember anniversaries such as the birthday of the person who died and the anniversary of the date of their death. Sending a card or even just a text on the day will let your friend know that you are remembering too.
Even adding that person’s name to a Christmas card can mean so much at a time of year when their absence is even more keenly felt.
Celebrating the life of the person your friend has lost can be as simple as reminiscing and talking about them. You could ask to look at photos and other mementoes with your friend or help put together a life book.
Don’t be afraid to mention the person they lost. You may think it kinder to steer clear of the subject, but trust me; your friend will want to talk. Memories are all that remain after a loss, and talking about the person who died really does help to keep them alive.
If your friend is planning to visit the cemetery or memorial gardens where their loved one is buried or memorialised, offer to go along or even drive if they are feeling anxious and emotional. Just being there will mean so much.
Deep loss causes lasting changes. Your friend may seem fine one day and angry or depressed the next. It’s all part of grief’s rhythm, which is eternal and has no logic or pattern.
Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. – Vicki Harrison
Vicki’s quote above really sums up what it is like to live after loss. So don’t take it personally if your friend seems distant or has no wish to socialise at times. He or she is just learning to swim.
They can bear the load at times; other times they simply can’t. One of the consequences of loss is that you unintentionally become more introverted. Some days they just need to stay in a safe bubble with family, because letting the rest of the world in is too difficult.
It’s easy to remember the profound effect grief has on your friend shortly after the loss, but much tougher to keep this in mind months, years, and decades after. Don’t believe that time is a healer; instead, it seems to be an adapter. With much difficulty, we learn to adapt to life without loved ones.
The rawness may be dulled with time, but the emotions and sorrow are not. It is not easy for the friend of a griever, but if you can remember and be there for the long term, you will be the shining star your friend so desperately needs.