Many of us have experienced first hand just how difficult the death of a loved one can be. It can be emotionally turbulent, and has the power to disrupt many aspects of our lives. It is one of the guaranteed facts of existence, yet it is no less difficult for that knowledge.
Though we might have experienced the death of a loved one, it still isn’t always easy to know how to support a friend through their time of grief. The very personal nature of death can mean that what is appropriate for one of us, is not quite so right for another. We have individual needs, and it’s important to bear in mind that it is not necessarily our place to impose our ideas on another’s process.
It’s a difficult time, but there are things we can do to help our friends during this difficult period. We’ve put together five approaches you can take with appropriate sensitivity and empathy.
1 - Listen More
Let’s face it, aside from being an emotionally-fraught subject, death can be just plain socially awkward. It can be tempting to fill the silences with a lot of chatter, with inane platitudes about how “they’ve gone to a better place”, or “they lived a long life”. This isn’t always particularly helpful to friends experiencing grief.
Often, the best tool you can provide a friend who has lost a loved one is your ability to listen attentively. Give your friend opportunities to talk about how they are feeling, aspects they are struggling with. Provide them with space to vent without your interjections. Remember that it is not your place to fix this situation, but your willingness to be around can be valuable. This is often the best route into understanding what they really need, and how you can truly help them, rather than assuming what you should provide.
2 - Administrative and Household Support
Aside from being emotionally fraught, the death of a loved one can be incredibly disruptive to everyday life. While your friend may in fact find the undertaking of chores to be a welcome distraction, it can certainly be helpful to offer your assistance in administrative or household duties. This can be as simple as cooking a meal or doing some dishes when you come to visit, or even helping them reduce stress by creating a relaxing atmosphere at home.
Death often brings with it some additional administrative requirements. Depending on how close a friend they are, you can be of assistance with aspects such as completion of paperwork for a life insurance claim, or informing utilities providers. Offer to accompany them to obtain a copy of the death certificate, or handle communications with banks and other official bodies.
You may also be of assistance when it comes to younger members of the immediate family. While this is an important time for families to draw closer together, it can be equally healthy to take some time apart. If possible, offer to take children on activities — there are many resources online that can provide inspiration here, including organizations who arrange recreation and leisure activities for children with special needs.
3 - Funeral Arrangements
One of the byproducts of a death is the necessity to arrange a funeral. This can often be a stressful undertaking, having to deal with many financial and logistical issues on top of the range of emotions your friend will be experiencing. You may be able to offer them some much needed practical support in this area.
Particularly if there have been no prior arrangements made, navigating funeral practices can be confusing and time consuming. Discuss which areas they’re struggling with, or could use some insight. Do the leg work of shopping around, research the cost of cremation urns, help to source an appropriate casket. There are a lot of unnecessary extra costs associated with funerals, and you may be of help in simply providing a level head to keep expenditure down.
4 - Address the Memories
Grief isn’t something that tends to just stop, and your friend may be going through some intense emotional and mental pain for some time. That doesn’t mean to say that they would ever want to stop thinking about their deceased loved one, or block out the memories. This was an important person in their life, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to be.
Take moments to talk about your friend’s loved one, share funny stories, moments that they brought you and others joy. But don’t ignore their flawed side either; the things that were slightly annoying, or the difficult periods of their life and how they overcame them. Keep their birthday on your calendar and send your friend a card on the day, take them out for a meal on an anniversary. Sometimes the most important long-term function you can perform is to facilitate the healthy processing of their memories.
5 - Don’t Avoid Them
We often have a tendency to assume that those dealing with grief don’t want to be disturbed, or that by talking to them we’ll trigger negative emotions. As a result, we can find ourselves avoiding contact with our friends after losing a loved one. This isn’t out of malice, but usually due to trying to second-guess what they need, or just simply not being sure how to speak to them at this difficult time. Unless they have specifically asked for space, do not avoid them.
Quite the opposite, in fact. While you shouldn’t overburden them with your presence, you should certainly take the time to check in with them regularly. Just an occasional prearranged visit (don’t show up unexpectedly) or a phone call every few days. Remind them that they are loved, and that they are not alone, and — above all else — you are there for whatever they need. Send them a package of self-care items, or a simple text with some words of encouragement. Just don’t pretend that, as socially awkward as grief can feel, they don’t exist.
Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.
Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.