Relationships

How to help a grieving friend

By: Kait Fowlie

©iStockphoto.com/digitalskillet Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/digitalskillet

Relationships

How to help a grieving friend

By: Kait Fowlie
When someone you love loses a friend or family member, you may be at a loss as to how to respond. It can be hard to know exactly what to say or what to do, especially when you know those wounds may last a lifetime.

Despite the sensitivity of the situation, there are a few ways you can help.

"It's very common for people to feel awkward and not know what to say to a friend who has had a tragic loss in his or her life," explains Susan Ockrant, a therapist based in Oakville, Ont. "Often this is difficult because it is hard to see people we care about so sad and in pain, and we feel helpless."

Don't let feelings of helplessness get in the way of being there for your friend. Ockrant shares some expert tips on how to become a positive part of the healing process.

1. Let your friend know you recognize her suffering
You may feel like the time is never right or that you don't want to remind your friend of her loss, but it is important to let her know you recognize her suffering.

"It can be helpful if you just ask her how she has been doing. If the person is having difficulty talking, it might also be good to explain that you want to be a support, but aren't sure what she needs," explains Ockrant.

When you're honest, there's no way you can say the wrong thing. If your friend isn't willing to talk at that time, don't push. Let her know you're there for her by reaching out in a less direct way, Ockrant advises. "Don't be afraid to send her an email or call regularly to let her know you're thinking about her and that you would still like to talk when she's ready."

2. Be patient
Be prepared for your friend to go through the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Don't take it personally if he or she lashes out or acts irrationally around you.

"Anger is a common feeling and stage of grief that occurs at some point after the loss of a loved one. It can also feel like your friend is jealous, resentful or scared," explains Ockrant. "Try to be as patient as you can and let your friend express his anger while you listen. Try not to interrupt even if your friend tells you about the same memory or worry over and over. Sharing often helps people heal."

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to help your friend deal with the pressures of everyday life on page 2.
3. Help your friend deal with the pressures of everyday life
While your friend is mourning, daily tasks like grocery shopping and cooking inevitably take a backseat. Help her stay healthy by offering to lend a hand.

"Make sure you offer something specific," says Ockrant. "If you say 'Call me if you need anything,' there's a good chance you won't receive a call. Try not to put the expectation on them to reach out if they need you."

Drop off food that freezes well or offer to clean your friend's apartment or pick her kids up from school.

Any way you can alleviate the daily pressures will make your friend's day a little easier.

4. Don't feel obliged to give advice
It's OK if you can't come up with any profound inspiration to offer your friend. The last thing you want to do is make the assumption that you know how he or she is feeling.

"Everyone's experience with loss is very different, and you want to be careful not to imply that you are judging your friend and the way she's feeling," says Ockrant. "This is a time that it might be better to be a good listener rather than an advice-giver."

5. Encourage your friend to find the help he needs
If you feel like you've done all you can do, offer to help your friend find a counsellor or support group for ongoing personal assistance.

"Encourage your friend to express her emotions to you, or search for additional support for your friend. Grief support groups or individual therapy could be helpful," says Ockrant. You can leave the ongoing rehabilitation up to the experts, but it's a helpful gesture to assist your friend in finding the right help for him.

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences in life, and it's not easy to know how to console those who mourn. The best thing you can do is to let your friend know that you recognize his or her pain, be a great listener and offer to help with the daily buildup of chores. It's OK if you don't have any brilliant wisdom to offer on the subject. Chances are you'll help a little just by being there.

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