The death of a loved one is an earth shattering experience. Immediately after the loss, life is a whirlwind. Memorial services and funerals occur very quickly, many times while those left behind are still in shock. Extended family and friends from all over flock to the family home to remember their dearly departed, but once the services are over, the grief remains. Helping a grieving friend is never easy and understanding that grief often comes in waves and that everyone’s grief is different is vital.
As a treasured friend, it is important to be there for the griever long after the funeral has ended. Consider the following:
Grief is experienced differently by everyone at different times. Avoid telling a grieving loved one that you know how they feel or trying to rationalize their feelings. One moment a grieving person may experience sadness that their loved one was taken from them and in the next moment they may express startling anger that their loved one left them behind. Whatever they are feeling is acceptable. There is no correct way to grieve. As a friend, one of the best things you can do is to listen to their feelings and show compassion without judgement or criticism.
Immediately after a death, loved ones are often in shock, bombarded with visitors, and busy themselves with the technicalities of funerals and settling the estate. It may be only after the funeral when they return to an empty home or settle into a life that no longer has their loved one’s physical presence that they grief fully manifests. Grief has no time limit and the griever often needs more support in the weeks and months following the loss than at the initial time of death. Stopping by to check in every now and then, reaching out with a card or quick phone call, and offering help or simply an ear to listen can make the world of difference to someone feeling alone and lost in the grief. Keep yourself available for months and even years and understand that it is often difficult for someone to reach out when they need help.
Special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries are often especially difficult. The events and celebrations associated with these special times often emphasize the loss and absence of a treasured loved one. As a friend, you need to understand that there may be pain associated with this and that is a natural extension of grief. Never try to convince someone that they should be celebrating or emphasizing other people’s happiness during this time. Respect the griever’s pain and offer to help whenever possible. Understand that past traditions may no longer bring the joy they once did. Consider organizing a special remembrance or attending one if you are invited. If your friend lost a spouse, consider hosting a dinner where old friends can share stories about the lost loved one or simply recall a favorite memory. Always be compassionate in your efforts and remember that everyone grieves differently. While some may want to focus on remembering their lost one, others may prefer to focus on remaining loved ones. Discuss any potential plans with the griever first.
The death of a loved one is difficult and the repercussions are life altering. Offering a shoulder to cry on, a compassionate ear, and a friendly presence following a loss are the most important things you can do for a friend. Remember to never criticize or try to minimize their pain and constantly be aware that grieving lasts far beyond the funeral. For additional tips, consider reviewing some of the information from Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. at the Center for Loss & Life Transition.