It can be hard to find words to say to a grieving friend, especially if you have never experienced grief firsthand. How can you support them? What words can you say?
After my dad's death, my friends were all out enjoying our school's homecoming and living their own lives, and I felt alone. While you are most likely unable to stop your whole life to be there for your grieving friend, there are many ways that you can make them feel less alone and support them.
Below are 11 effective ways you can support a grieving friend, by someone with firsthand knowledge about grief. By doing these 11 things, your friend will definitely feel supported and less alone.
1. Acknowledge that You Don't Completely Understand
Pretending that you know exactly what your friend is going through will do more harm than help. Grief is a situation where you should not fake it until you make it. If you pretend to know exactly how your friend is feeling, they will see through your lies quickly.
Instead, acknowledge that you don't completely understand exactly what they're going through. Say that you're willing to support and try to understand a bit of what they're going through, but realize that you will never know exactly how they feel.
If you have gone through grief before, chances are you have some idea of how your friend feels. But, if you haven't, that's okay; just remember to not pretend like you're the expert.
2. Listen and be Sympathetic
Just because you don't completely understand what your friend is going through doesn't mean that you can't be there for them. Often the best way to support and comfort a person going through grief is by listening to them talk about their feelings and their loved one.
It's okay if you don't have all of the answers to your friend's questions. That's not what they need. Chances are, just ranting about what is going on in their life, from changes to whatever emotions they are feeling, will be a big help to your friend. When I ranted to my friends about my grief, my goal wasn't to hear the best responses in return. I just needed to sort through my thoughts and let someone else know how I was feeling, which I was able to do by talking about everything that was going on in my life.
3. Don't Minimize Your Friend's Pain
For most things people go through, the go-to reaction is, "It isn't that bad." That does NOT apply to grief.
Your friend is most likely going through terrible pain. That is okay and perfectly normal. Let your friend know that you are aware they are hurting and that it's okay to be in pain.
If a significant amount of time passes, however, and your friend is still having a hard time with their loss, they must get help from a licensed therapist or other medical expert.
4. Don't Make Everything About You
Along with not minimizing your friend's pain, it's important to remember that their grief is about them, not you. This sounds blunt, but it's true. People sometimes try to make a friend's loss about themselves, which ends up hurting their friend and making them feel like they can't be around that friend.
Unless you are both grieving the loss, you need to prioritize your friend and not make yourself the center of attention for their grief. The loss is their experience, and, as a good friend, you should just be there to support them through their loss.
5. Ask Your Friend What They Need
After my dad's death, I sort of expected my friends to know exactly what to do. My friends, most of whom had never gone through grief, had no clue what to do, though. We eventually figured out that the easiest way for them to be there for me was for me to tell them what I needed.
It's okay that you don't know exactly what someone going through grief needs. The easiest way to find out is by asking your friend. Questions such as, "How can I be here for you today?" and "What can I do?" are simple ways to let your friend know that you are there for them, and allow you to do what they need.
The first few times you ask this question, your friend may not know what they need. That's okay, and the easiest way to make sure you do what they need when they eventually figure it out is to continue asking. Unless your friend asks you to stop, chances are they greatly appreciate you asking what you can do, as it's a sign that you care for them and that they are not alone.
6. Don't Avoid Talking About Your Friend's Loved One
The people around me treated the word "dad" like a curse word, and never said it anywhere near me for the first few months after my loss. While I know they meant well, it was infuriating to me, as I still wanted to talk about my dad and my loss.
While you shouldn't pressure your friend to talk about their grief and loved one, let them know that you are open to talking about it. Occasionally ask them "Do you want to talk about your loved one?" or "Whenever you want to talk about your grief, I am here."
If you repeatedly offer to talk about your friend's loved one and grief and they never take you up on the offer, don't be offended. Everyone is different with how they grieve. During my grief, I wanted to talk about what was going on and how I was feeling, but some people aren't that way.
7. Keep Checking In!
The week my dad died, everyone was all over me. I was supported by my teachers, friends, and even friends' parents. The next week, however, it seemed like almost everyone had forgotten about my loss and moved on.
While you don't have to ask your friend 24/7 about how they're doing, they will appreciate it greatly if you occasionally check in with them about their grief. The first few weeks after the death of your friend's loved one are just the beginning of their grief, and they'll need your support for a much longer time.
8. Give Space, But Not Too Much
Some people need space during grief, while others don't. I hated being alone in the weeks after my dad's death and had to always have something going on in the background, but some people just want to be by themselves.
Whenever you have social plans or go to events that your friend would have otherwise gone to with you, still invite them. Most likely they will not want to go, but knowing that you are still trying to include them is positive and will help your grieving friend know that they are not alone.
If your friend says no to social plans, don't be offended. Everyone grieves differently, and unless they are refusing to do anything, it's okay to let them miss out on a few evenings.
9. Make Fun "Grief Plans"
While your friend may choose to opt-out of your usual social plans, that doesn't mean you can't see them at all. Chances are, your friend going through grief won't want to go and hang out with a bunch of people, so create new "grief plans!"
Grief plans can be many things, such as going to see movies, going on walks, and visiting coffee shops that you haven't been to in a while. Grief plans aren't meant to be the most exciting thing in the world, but semi-interesting activities that will allow you to spend time with your friend and get them out of the house.
If your friend doesn't feel like leaving the house, that's okay, too! You can make plans to go to their house and watch a movie, cook dinner, or do anything else fun. Also, if they don't want to go out in public but need a change of scenery, invite your friend over to your place!
When you are together for your grief plans, try to make things exciting and genuinely happy for your friend. Don't be fake happy and hype up normal, boring things, as your friend will see right through you. Try to do things that are interesting for your friend and you, which will make for a happy night.
The goal of grief plans is to show your friend that, while things may be terrible right now, happiness still exists. If grief comes up, definitely stop and talk about feelings and how your friend is doing. Don't just skip over their feelings to make sure the evening is happy, as that'll just make your friend feel worse.
10. Be Supportive, but Not TOO Supportive
Some people undergo major lifestyle changes as a result of grief. After my dad's death, I began dedicating less of my time to social things and more time to writing. Positive changes like these are okay, as your friend could be trying to find ways to cope or things that will make them happy, and try to be supportive.
If your friend is making changes to their lives that are negative, however, you should not support them. Realize that they are going through a hard time, but also gently try to get them to choose more positive things. While creating bad habits may be easier for the short term, later trying to get out of these habits will be harder than just creating positive habits.
11. Don't Expect Your Friend's Grief to "Get Better"
If you haven't realized it already, grief lasts much longer than the flu. Your friend won't just be grieving for a few weeks and then suddenly be amazing and "over" their grief.
Grief is something that most people have to cope with for the rest of their life. For most people, the worst of grief is within the first year or so of the death, with grief then just becoming a subtle feeling in the background for the rest of their life. However, timing varies for everyone who goes through grief. Some people just take a month or two to get through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, in any particular order), while others take years to get through the stages.
Just because the grief eases up a bit, though, does not mean that it is completely gone. While you should work hard to be there for your friend much more than usual during the beginning stages of their grief, you should also make sure to be there for them during the rest of it. Still, occasionally check-in to see how they're doing, though as time goes on you can do this a lot less frequently, and let your friend know that you are always here for them.
It can be difficult to successfully be there for a grieving friend, but knowing these 11 things will make it a bit easier for you:
1. Acknowledge that you don't completely understand.
2. Listen and be sympathetic.
3. Don't minimize your friend's pain.
4. Don't make everything about you.
5. Ask your friend what they need.
6. Don't avoid talking about your friend's loved one.
7. Keep checking in!
8. Give space, but not too much.
9. Make fun "grief plans."
10. Be supportive, but not TOO supportive.
11. Don't expect your friend's grief to "get better."
Grief is something that everyone has to go through, and it's important to be a part of your grieving friend's support system. In the coming days, weeks, and months your friend will most likely rely heavily on you and the rest of their support system, and when you need assistance being there for them, you can always refer back to this article. Remember to listen, check in, and let your friend know that you're going to be there for them during this hard time of their life, and that they are not alone.
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This article was written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Joseph Pearson.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. The content on the Teenage Grief Sucks website is mostly written by teenagers, and not licensed professionals. If you need medical help, seek assistance from a licensed therapist or, if it is urgent, contact emergency services in your area.