Supporting a Grieving Friend
As we know, starting a grief journey is one of the hardest things any of us will ever go through and supporting someone on this journey can be difficult – after all, how do you ‘comfort’ someone who feels heartbroken on a level you might not understand? Watching a friend grieve can be really difficult and it can also bring about new worries; “what do I say to them?”, “Do they still want to talk to me?”, “Are they okay?” Nobody wants to see their friends upset, which is why we have collected together some information that might help you to support a grieving friend.
Ask them if they need space
Firstly, before we delve into this, it is important to know that your grieving friend might not know what they want or need. Dealing with grief affects our brains in cruel and mysterious ways, so be patient with them.
Secondly, asking if your friend needs space could be exactly what they want to hear. Too often, people ‘back off’ from their grieving friends, as they think they need space – however, this can result in their friend feeling abandoned in a time they really need support. Instead, we recommend that you just simply ask them if they are in need of some space. By asking this question, they will feel able to honestly tell you if they are feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment, but know that you’re there for them at the same time.
Remember, don’t be offended by their answer. The beginning of a grief journey, especially, is usually filled with people flooding in to give their condolences. This isn’t to say you should leave them be during this period, but just asking them if they need space will make the world of difference.
Don’t assume their needs are the same as yours
Making assumptions about what someone needs is not only unhelpful but could be detrimental to both yourself and your friend. People will need different things as they navigate through their grief journey, so assuming their needs are the same as yours isn’t helpful. Some people, for example, need lots of emotional support and stimulation. However, others need physical support – such as help around the house, picking up shopping and walking the dog. No two people have the same ‘grief needs,’ which is why having conversations about your friend's needs are so important.
Never compare grief journeys
One of the worst things you can do for your friend is comparing their journey to someone else’s. Grief is different for everyone, even if two people are grieving the same person – grief just doesn’t have one identity. Making comparisons between grief journeys is like comparing an oak tree to an Aloe Vera – you just wouldn’t do it.
However, giving ‘advice’ is very different. Perhaps you are on a grief journey yourself and you offer some tips for sleeping at night – that is more than okay, as long as you don’t assume this will work for them too. Advice and comparison are two very different things and finding the balance is essential.
Like we’ve said, grief looks different for everyone and, because of this, should be handled differently for each person. That being said, never turn your back on a grieving friend. Although this might be hard, it is so important – they will be feeling more alone now than they ever have, so keeping them close and letting them know you’re there is vital, no matter what stage of grief they are at. Remember it is important to look after yourself too, so taking time out of the situation might be a good idea; for both you and your friend. This isn’t to say you won’t support them, but there will be times you will need ‘emotional recharge’ – after all, you can’t support someone else if you’re struggling too.
By Rebecca Thomas