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How Does One Help A Close Friend Deal With Bereavement

by Mary Jane Hurley Brant
originally published 11/4/2011

No one wants to see a friend suffering from grief but when our friend has lost someone they care deeply about they will have to grieve. Grieving is the natural emotional response to loss. But, it’s a painful emotion to observe in anyone but even more so when it’s our friend.

No one wants to see a friend sad. It’s instinctual that we wish to ease their pain. Sometimes, because we cannot change the fact that someone has died, we feel we cannot be helpful. While it is true we cannot bring the deceased person back to our grieving friend; we can ease our friend’s distress. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about it.

First, be empathic by staying present to them and being aware of their body language and sighs, their words or even their lack of words. Also, make every effort to get to your friend as soon as you can after hearing of his or her loss particularly if the person who has died was a significant part of your friend’s life.

Second, attend the service or memorial. Normally there is a viewing the night before or on the day of the service. Make a concerted effort to get there because your bereaved friend will always remember who took the time to come and who didn’t.

Third, say sensitive things while reminding your friend of meaningful times with the lost one. For example, “Marilyn, your mom was so funny. I remember when we were kids and she dressed up as an elf every year during the holiday. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or, “Joe, your dad was the most patient man I ever knew. I remember how he took care of your mother after her stroke. Such loyalty and devotion he gave to her.”

Fourth, take your friend’s hand, touch them on the shoulder and hug them. Their body hurts now because it is aching with the absence of the lost person and your compassionate touch will be comforting.

Fifth, tell them you will be there for them no matter how long they are grieving. You see, the world wants us to hurry up and get on with things. This demand – whether from society or others in your friend’s life – doesn’t work with the grieving process because loss, as love, is embedded deep in our souls and it cannot be rushed.

Sixth, send a card or note every few weeks or shoot out a short email telling them you are thinking about them or praying for them. A pot of soup left by their door in a cooler would also be appreciated.

Seventh, remove from your speech this sentence, “I know how you feel.” No one really knows how we feel even when the circumstances are similar; because each of us is unique with our own feelings.

Eighth, remember the Beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted” or St. Francis of Assisi’s eternal message, “Where there is despair, hope.”
My parting thought on how to comfort a friend who is grieving is to give them the hope that they will make it, the consolation that you will help them in any way you can and the knowledge that you are only a phone call away.

About the Author: Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP is a practicing grief therapist for 32 years with a specialty in loss of a child. She’s also a Certified Group Psychotherapist, works in person or by phone and is the author of When Every Day Matters: A Mother’s Memoir on Love, Loss and Life (Simple Abundance Press). She has a sub-specialty in Multiple Sclerosis and serious illness as well as working within religious communities. Please visit her websites to learn more Mary Jane Hurley Brant or to read an excerpt of her book.

Mary Jane’s other offerings:
Katie, My Hero
Three Ways to Find Hope After Loss

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