For most people, reaching out to someone who is grieving the loss of a good friend, knowing what to say to them is a very hard. Comforting someone who has lost a friend comes naturally for some, but if we're really honest, it's awkward and scary for most of us.
One of the reasons that grief is so awkward is that nobody wants to remind someone that they are sad - that they've lost a friend. If only one thing can be said in this space, it should be:
"You cannot remind someone who has lost a loved one, that they have lost a loved one. They will never forget. YOU are not going to remind them because they carry it with them all the time."
Knowing the stages of grief will help you understand some of the things they are feeling: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Also knowing that there is no time line on grief, that it can take a year or ten or forever, will help you understand the person you are trying to comfort.
How Do I Help Myself After I've Lost A Friend?
Losing a friend can be one of the first losses we feel as we grow. Whether you're thirteen or thirty, the loss of a good friend is a tremendous blow. Here are some gentle guidelines for working through the loss of a friend.
Take the time to grieve the loss of your friend - all the time you need. Remember, there's no set time-table on grief - you should grieve as long as you need to without feeling guilty about "not moving on."
The more significant the friend was in your life, the harder the grief is going to be to handle. That's okay. It means you loved - really loved - your friend.
Remember that everyone grieves differently. If other friends of your deceased friend are moving on more quickly, remember that's this is them, and you are you. You are allowed to grieve as long as you need to.
Don't feel guilty for your feelings. Just because you're not technically family doesn't mean that you don't matter; that your feelings aren't as valid as a blood relative.
Ignoring the pain of losing a good friend will not make it go away. You will not become better if you simply ignore it.
Don't let anyone pressure you to "get over it."
Never allow someone else to tell you how you "should" be feeling. If they do, tell them to shove off. There is no "should's" in grieving.
Lean on your family and other friends for help, love, and support. You'll need them to help you, even if you hate asking for help.
Prepare yourself for the pain of anniversaries - the day your friend passed away, their birthday. Those days will be extra hard, so give yourself permission to handle those days any way you can.
If you want to celebrate your deceased friend's birthday, go for it! It's a great way to get people who loved your friend like you did together and celebrate his or her life.
Write in a journal about your friend. Write about the good times and the bad, and keep a record of all of those treasured memories. Writing is very cathartic.
Healing does NOT mean that you forget about your friend. Your friend is still a part of you - forever - and no amount of anything can change that.
Write letters to your friend.
Make a memory book full of stories, pictures and mementos that you have that remind you of your deceased friend.
Plant a tree or a garden, somewhere you can go to feel connected to your friend.
Take care of yourself physically - go to the doctor, get regular exercise, sleep on a good schedule. Being healthy in body can help your mind heal from such a traumatic loss.
Don't turn to alcohol or other drugs to numb your feelings - it's unhealthy and it doesn't actually allow you to heal.
If your feelings get to be too overwhelming, speak to a grief counselor. There's no shame in asking for help when you need it.
If you're feeling suicidal, call 911. Do not hesitate.
How To Help A Friend or Loved One Who Has Lost A Friend:
Losing a friend can be one of the hardest, most complicated types of loss. Because friends aren't seen as family members (even though many of them are closer to us than family members) the grief can be tempered with, "it's not like she was my family," "it's not like she's my daughter."
Friends aren't often involved in the funeral planning, which can leave them feeling useless and depressed. Here are some tips for helping someone who has lost a friend:
Remember that there's no timetable on grief - grief can last months or years, and no one person can predict how a person is supposed to be grieving this loss.
Listen with compassion. Acknowledge their feelings, whether they are angry or sad or just feeling low.
Let your loved one know that you can handle listening to the ugly emotions that go along with grieving. Allow them to express their anger, their guilt, their fury over this unfair death.
Spend extra time with your loved one. Take them to dinner or to a movie. Arrange a movie night. Allow your friend some things to look forward to ("every Friday is popcorn and cheesy movie night")
Let the bereaved talk about their friend and don't act uncomfortable. Understand that talking about their deceased friend helps them remember their friend.
Keep listening - sometimes we want to say something meaningful or perfect to help our friend who is grieving, like our words will magically make it all better. But the truth is, there's nothing we can really say or do to ease the pain of losing a friend.
Give them a hug. Sometimes the person who has lost a friend may not want to talk or not feel comfortable or ready to talk about their feelings. That's okay. Just give them a hug and tell them they're sorry that their friend has died.
Keep being a friend. Losing a friend can be a pivital and life-changing event for many people. That means, your loved one needs to hold tightly to those things that haven't changed - like you and your friendship.
Be patient with your loved one. Losing a friend can be very traumatic and earth-shattering. Patience is key.
Call. Keep calling. Send text messages. Send emails. Send cards and notes in the mail. Even if your loved one is in a place where they can't handle reciprocating, know that these small gestures can mean everything.
Continue reaching out long after the funeral is over. This is the time when grieving people need the most love and support - this is also the time when much love and support has dwindled.
Offer practical help - bring over frozen meals. Offer to go to the store for them. Help them with housework. Grief can make all of these normal every-day tasks into a huge undertaking.
When you're visiting your loved one, offer to throw in some laundry or clean up the kitchen. Grief may make these chores insurmountable.
Share your stories of their deceased friend - remember them and celebrate them with the bereaved.
Talk about the good times with your friend. Remind them of how meaningful their friend's life was to everyone. Share your stories and allow your friend to share theirs.
Make sure the bereaved is taking care of themselves by seeing a doctor, dentist, therapist or other professional. It's easy to neglect yourself when grieving the death of a friend.
If your friend discusses suicide, dying, or taking their own life, THIS IS A SERIOUS EMERGENCY. Call 911.
What To Say To Someone Whose Friend Has Died:
Acknowledge the loss; "I heard your friend died. I'm here if you need me (and even if you don't)."
Express concern: "I am so very sorry for your loss. Your friend was an amazing person."
Be genuine without hiding your feelings, "I wish I knew what to say, but please know that I care very much."
Offer support, "Please tell me what I can do for you."
Ask questions, "How are you feeling?" without assuming you know how the grieving person feels.
How Not To Help A Friend or Loved One Grieving The Loss Of A Friend:
In as much as we want to be helpful and comfort our loved one who is grieving the loss of a friend, we have to be careful. Going through the grieving process brings up many emotions - not all of them understandable - which can cause us, the loved ones, to say the wrong thing. While helping someone grieve the loss of a good friend, remember not to do these things:
Don't invalidate their feelings, by telling them not to cry or not to feel guilty. These are normal parts of grieving and should be gone through, not around.
Don't offer pep talks.
Don't say guilt-induced stuff like, "you've got to get over this," or "your friend wouldn't want you to feel sad all of the time."
You can't rescue your loved one who is grieving the loss of their friend. Offer support, love, and compassion, but keep in mind that you cannot rescue them.
Don't act as though you know exactly what your friend feels. Grief is unique, and even if you're both grieving the same friend who has died, it doesn't mean you know how your friend feels.
Listen with an open mind and a closed mouth. Don't judge. Don't offer opinions. Just accept your loved one's feelings as being appropriate.
Don't act like your loved one is made of glass. If you avoid all uncomfortablish statements, you're not going to be saying much at all. That, in turn, will make your friend feel like you're excluding them from conversations.
Don't use "he" or "she" in conversation while referring to the deceased. Use their name.
As everyone grieves in their own way, don't chastise your loved one for being "too happy too soon" or "wallowing."
As always, avoid platitudes. Special mention goes to "He or she is in a better place." It's dismissive of the tremendous loss, and without knowing the religious background of your grief-stricken loved one, it may not be something they actually believe.
Don't make assumptions about your grieving friend based upon how they appear. Some people are excellent at hiding their emotions.
Do not dismiss your friend's varying range of emotions. Because we each grieve in our own way, we may not experience the same emotions - there are no right or wrong emotions involved in the grieving process.
Avoid telling your loved one about your own grief experiences.
Do not compare grief - grief is different for everyone.
Do not offer unsolicited advice about "getting over" their grief. They will NEVER be over their grief.
Don't offer reasoning about how they should or shouldn't feel.
What NOT To Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Friend:
"You have other friends."
"He/She was lucky to have lived a good life."
"It was God's will."
"He's/She's in Heaven now."
"Think of all the good times you had."
"You'll feel better soon."
"Count your blessings."
"You have so much to be grateful for."
"Time heals all wounds."
"Pull yourself together - be strong!"
"I know exactly how you feel."
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