Grief is in the room, and it is the size of an elephant. Do you see it? Can you feel it? It is hard to know what to say…or do when a friend loses a loved one. We cannot stop the pain someone else is living with (which is hard for us to sit with), but we can acknowledge that we see the elephant standing on their foot, which can help the person grieving feel less alone. Relationships vary and what it is called does not predict the experience of grief. A best friend may be like a sister to you. A grandfather may be your kindred spirit. A pet may be your constant companion. We like to define things to better understand them. Let this one go. We only know the significance of the loss based on what our friend shares.
People process loss in many ways. The uncle that does not shed a tear is grieving. The neighbor that has not changed out of her bathrobe in weeks could use your compassion, not judgement. The Kubler-Ross model for the five stages of grief notes that bereaved will experience- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is not linear. The process will take how much time it takes. We may sincerely wish for someone to feel better, but that does not change their process. Grief cannot be fixed. We may feel uncomfortable with the depth of emotion we witness. We may feel helpless, and struggle to find the ‘right’ words to say. (See below for some suggestions.)
I have heard people say that they do not want to ‘bring up’ the loss to someone grieving by asking how they are. I am here to tell you that you are not bringing up something that is not already on their mind. To share that you are thinking of someone is an act of kindness. They may choose not to discuss how that are in depth, but you are asking and acknowledging that they are going through a difficult time is a supportive exchange.
Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book, Option B, “Specific acts help because instead of trying to fix the problem, they address the damage caused by the problem.” What could you say or do to soften the impact caused by the loss? I had dear friends stock the freezer and mow the lawn following a loss. It was so helpful. They took away the mystery of dinner and lightened my load in a meaningful way.
• How are you? (Then give them your undivided attention as they answer.) • There are no words for this.
• This must be so hard. I remember you saying that she/he (share a personal memory). • If you understand or share in a belief system with the bereaved- words of faith may be of comfort.
• I am sorry for your loss.
• I am thinking of you.
• What can I do to support you? (Give options. This can be hard to answer for those that do not typically ask for help.)
• Offer to sit with them/stay with them. Give them a hug (depending on the nature of the relationship).
• Organize friends to deliver meals.
• Walk their dog.
• Fill the car’s gas tank.
• Set up a carpool for the kids.
• Donate to a charity in the deceased’s name.
• Mail them a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
• Start a GoFundMe page to help ease financial burdens.
These are just a few ideas of what you can say or do when someone you care about has suffered a loss. “I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees” writes Mat Kearney in the song Closer to Love. This is so very true. Offering compassion to those living with loss helps them to not suffer alone.
Julie Brown-Nierman offers individual counseling at the NH Health & Wellness Center for those living with grief, chronic illness, anxiety, and depression. She is a Licensed Therapist, Certified EFT Practitioner, and Reiki Master. Reach her at 978-219-7356, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: http://www.nhhealthwellness.com/ for more information.