How to Help a Friend Struggling With Grief

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Some Basic Ways To Help Friends In Grief!

Many people have friends that have great sorrows but they feel helpless to help their friend. YOU CAN BE A HUGE HELP!

You can squeeze a hand, give a kiss, give a hug and be present. If you want to say something, say, “I’m sorry” or “I care”. The idea is called “Hush”. It is merely, “Show-up-Shut-up and Care!” Our words can be very clumsy but our presence always expresses love. Death is always hard on “the Answer-Man” or “the Know It All Type.” But if you are comfortable with just being present you will be a huge blessing.

You can offer your help with practical matters; i.e., errands, fixing food, or caring for children. Say “I’m going to the store. Do you need bread, milk, etc.? I will get them.” It is not helpful to say, “Call me if there is anything I can do.” They will not call.

You can weep with those who weep. Don’t be afraid to cry openly if you were close to the deceased. Often the bereaved will comfort you and that may feel backwards. However, at the same time they understand and are grateful for your loving tears and that they are not alone in their grief.

You do not need to ask questions about how the death happened. Let the bereaved tell you as much as they want when they are ready. Be patient! They will talk when they are ready to express that pain.

You do not need to say, “I know just how you feel.” Everyone’s loss is very different; please leave room for their unique expression of sorrow. You do not need to understand their feelings to be helpful.

You may be asked by your friend, “WHY?”. It is often a cry of pain rather than a question. It is not necessary to answer, but if you do, you may reply “I don’t know why.”

There are some dangerous possible results of grief to watch out for in your loved one.

1. Be aware of the use of drugs and alcohol. Medication should only be taken under the supervision of a physician. Often these only delay the grief response.

2. Be aware of gambling. It can be used like a drug! A casino is always open and gives a grieving person a place to escape but the loss of money can deepen depression later.

3. Sometimes the pain of bereavement is so intense that thoughts of suicide occur. Don’t be shocked by this. Instead, try to be a truly confiding friend.

Remember it is not your answers that are helpful but your loving presence. Leave your inner counselor at home. You must avoid painful platitudes like “Life is for the living,” “It was their time” or “It is God’s will”. Explanations rarely console. It is better to say nothing.

You may notice that your dear friend may be angry. They may be angry at God, clergy, doctors, rescue teams, other family members, the deceased and even themselves. Encourage them to acknowledge their anger and to find healthy ways of handling it. God is big enough to deal with their anger, they are the only ones that are uncomfortable with it.

You may need to be available to LISTEN frequently. Your friend will want to talk about the person who has died; but often, it is in their time schedule. You need to be quick to listen and very slow to speak. You can give them the gift of praise music. Often holy words of worship and hope are the only music that can touch their weeping soul. You can encourage them to talk about the deceased. Do not change the conversation or avoid mentioning the person’s name. Ask them to tell you stories about their loved one’s life.

If you really want to be helpful, you can read and study about the various phases of grief. Then you will be able to understand and help your friend to understand the cycles of grief.

You need to be very patient with the length of your friend’s sorrow. Please do not say, “You will get over it in time.” Mourning may take a long time. In fact, they will grieve the rest of their lives for a precious loved one and this is “healthy grief”. The goal is not closure but understanding of their sorrow and of their new reality.

Your friend may need you to stand by them for as long as is necessary. Please, encourage them to be patient with themselves. There is no timetable for grief. If a person weeps over the loss of a loved one, fifty years after they lost them, that can be a very healthy expression of sorrow.

You need to be very careful to not express, “It’s been 4 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. You must be over it by now.” Life will never be the same for your friend. If you lose someone you love, your life is changed forever. The goal is coming to an understanding of your new reality.

Please encourage your friend to get counseling if their grief becomes very dark.

You could suggest that grieving people take part in support groups. Hospice and church support groups are very helpful. Sharing similar experiences helps. Offer to attend a support group meeting with them. The meetings are not morbid. They offer understanding, friendship, suggestions for coping and HOPE.

You could suggest that your friend postpone most all major decisions such as moving, giving everything away, etc. Later they may regret their hasty decisions. It is best for the bereaved to keep decision making to a minimum. (I suggest waiting at least a year.)

You ought to suggest exercise to help work off bottled up tension and anger, to relax them and to aid sleep. Offer to join them for tennis, exercise class, swimming, a walk, etc.

You must practice unconditional love. Feelings of rage, anger and frustration are not pleasant to observe or listen to; but it is necessary for your friend to recognize, listen to and work on those painful feelings. This uncomfortable expression is necessary in order to work through the grief. Remember, Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

You can help your friend to avoid unrealistic expectations. These expectations include things such as to how they “should” feel and when they will be better.

You need to be very nonjudgmental. Please be accepting of whatever feelings are expressed by your friend. Do not state, “You shouldn’t feel like that.” This attitude puts pressure on the bereaved to push down their feelings. Instead, encourage them to express their feelings in whatever way is helpful. They may need to get rid of some emotional poison, and you will need to be as loving as possible during these times.

You can go with them to church. Church can become a very lonely and broken place after a death. If they are sitting alone in their sorrows, the pain can be overwhelming. However, a friendly presence sitting beside them can calm nerves and help them to enter into the worship.

You need to be very aware that a bereaved person’s self-esteem may be very low. They can be easily hurt or offended. So, do not be offensive and do not be easily offended yourself. You can watch for secondary losses. Your friend lost their loved one and many other things; i.e. the ability to call them and talk; movie night with their friend; playing euchre with them, etc.. They need to grieve these losses as well.

You need to watch for feelings of guilt. Your friend may be filled with lots of “if only”. On your part, it is not helpful to respond with, “Stop feeling guilty.” This only adds to your buddies’ negative view of themselves. Your friend will be depressed. Depression is a part of every loss.

It is a scary feeling but a necessary and healthy part of grief. To be able to talk things over with an understanding friend or loved one, is one factor that may help prevent a person from becoming severely

depressed. Depression has many symptoms such as: no appetite, sleeping all the time, nothing is fun or enjoyable, never sleeping and so many other symptoms. They may feel like they are living in a dream or watching others live in slow motion. They may feel like their colorful life has gone black and white.

You need to give special attention to the children in the family. Please, do not tell them not to cry or not to upset the adults. This might cause a very unhealthy guilt in kids related to their parents sorrow. Children grieve, but in a very different way from adults. They grieve in short moments of grief over a long period of time. Grieving parents are not good care-givers for grieving kids; so a friend or an aunt may be a good care-giving substitute at this time. There are great grief groups, for children, in many towns that use stories and art-therapy to help children gain a healthy expression of their loss.

You can suggest that your friend keep a journal. Journals can often help a person express their feelings and go to the depth of their loss. Please do not panic when your friend appears to be struggling with their loss in a deeper matter. This is often due to the reality of the many aspects of their loss hitting them. Usually, genuine sorrow is often delayed till after the funeral. You need to be very aware of the physical reactions to the death (lack of appetite, sleeplessness, headaches, inability to concentrate). These affect the person’s coping ability, energy and recovery.

You need to know that being “busy” is not grief recovery. Doing things can be healthy. It is good to get out and live life. However, business must never be used as a drug to avoid the deep pain of grief.

You can be their personal prayer warrior. You can pray for them and with them. There is something very powerful in holding another hand and praying to our Almighty God. As Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes, “O God, make us desperate, and grant us faith and boldness to approach Your throne and make our petitions known, knowing that in doing we link arms with Omnipotence and become instruments of Your eternal purposes being fulfilled on this earth.”

write by derrick williams


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