three ways to walk with a grieving friend

If you’re anything like me, you may find it somewhat awkward to talk to someone who has lost a loved one.  Maybe you’re at a loss for words, or maybe you’re afraid that something you say will offend them or make them feel worse.

In my own experience with grief, I’ve really appreciated friends who have done the following.  Perhaps the tips below will be a blessing to your friend, too.

1.  Remember significant dates

Make an effort to write down the dates that would be significant or potentially difficult days for your grieving friend.  The anniversary of his/her loved one’s death, the loved one’s birthday, a wedding anniversary if it was a spouse who died, etc.

Their own birthdays and the holidays they celebrate will always hurt, regardless of the number of years that pass.  There will always be a gap at the Christmas table and a gaping hole in their hearts.

On those days, send them a note, an e-mail or a text to let them know you’re thinking about them.

They might acknowledge your effort, they might not.  It may hurt too much for them to answer the phone on those days – but the fact that you remembered will mean the world to them.

2.  Ask them how they’re doing

Don’t assume you know how they are feeling, and don’t tell them that you know how they feel.

The truth is, they might not even know how they are feeling – or if they do, those emotions may change completely in the next two hours, or even two minutes.

In my own grief, I’ve been shocked by the vast array of emotions I can experience in a single 12-hour period.

Rather than guessing how your friend may be feeling, do yourselves both a favor, and just ask.  However — there is a ‘but’ to insert here.  If you don’t have time to listen to your friend’s answer, or if you’re just throwing the question out there in passing … rather wait for a better time to ask.  It can be a very sensitive issue, and you’d be doing your friend a disservice to ask without bothering to invest in her response.


3. Find out whether it’s a ‘thinking day’ or a ‘talking day’

Not all days will be the same, as mentioned above.  On some days, your friend might feel like talking about the loved one they’ve lost.  On other days, he or she might prefer to keep quiet about it, and just appreciate your presence.

As my friend Bronwyn wrote in her Letter to a Hurting Friend, “Let me know if it’s a talking day, or an eating-cherries-silently-day.”

As I wrote in my Open Letter to Grief, I have discovered that grief is not a process.  It doesn’t necessarily get better with time.  It ebbs and flows like the tide, but is always present.

Acknowledge this awareness to your friend, and commit to walking by their side on the long road ahead.

They will be grateful.

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