What Your Grieving Friend Really Needs
This story originally appeared on: A Daughter’s Love
My feelings were crushed the night my father died. My entire world exploded when my father died.
As I silently observed my father take his last breath, I felt my heart beat hard inside my chest, exactly six times before I burst into uncontrollable tears. And then suddenly my sobbing stopped and so did my entire world.
My father’s death was expected after a very long illness. But that still did not prepare me for the gut wrenching, debilitating pain of grief. The days leading up to his death were mentally exhausting. Two days before my father died I sat next to his hospital bed begging him not to go, not to leave me alone. And then the man who held my hand my entire life and gave me butterfly kisses was suddenly gone forever.
You are never ready to say good bye to a person of significance in your life.
The days following my father’s death, I felt like the drunk friend who arrived to the party late. I found myself angry, sad and devastated constantly misjudging everyone’s well meaning actions. My thoughts revolved around one thought, “My father just died, my entire world just exploded, how do I go on?”
When someone you love dies, every single relationship in your life is reevaluated. Friendships as well as relations with family members are now ranked by who offered condolences, who texted you, who picked up the phone and maybe even who “liked” your latest photo of your deceased loved one on social media. If your loved one endured a lengthy illness you may even find yourself evaluating friendships based on who was there for you during the illness.
I began to question lifetime relationships. How good of a friend is someone if they failed to recognize that my father died? How strong of a bond do you have with a family member who begins spewing gossip just days after throwing the dirt on my father’s casket? Did you really respect my father or your relationship with him if you are unable to show respect to his immediate family following his death? Do I even want to bother to nurture these relationships after suffering such a horrific loss that they failed to recognize or respect?
Grief opens your eyes to one’s true colors. The widow returns to an empty house, the children are now living a life with a massive piece of their identity missing. Life as they knew it is forever changed.
The sad reality is after the funeral is over and the condolences stop rolling in everyone but the immediate family returns to life. And when that happens the immediate family can feel a profound sense of isolation. They begin to look around feeling alone and sometimes abandoned.
Until you have been spouse of someone for 40 plus years it is impossible to comprehend how debilitating grief is. I lost my father, but my mother lost her husband, her soul mate. My mother spent the last 7 years of my father’s life selflessly caring for him, the last year of my father’s life assisting him with basic human needs while preserving his dignity. She showered him, helped him use the restroom, fed him, she became his lifeline. Slowly I watched my parents go from a dynamic inseparable duo to my mother learning how to live life as a soloist. Losing my father has shattered my heart, but watching my mother endure losing her soul mate has taken my grief to a whole new level, often leaving me breathless, devastated and feeling utterly alone.
So what do you do? How do you prevent you lifetime friend from feeling alone? The massive void left by death can never be filled by another but it sure does help to be surrounded by supportive, kind individuals.
1. Offer help, but be specific
Start out by asking exactly what they need. When and if they tell you nothing do not let that deter you from helping. When we are grieving we have no idea what we need. Take a peek around their home and make helpful suggestions. “I can babysit any afternoon this week”, “I can drop the kids off at school this week”, “I can mow the lawn this week” or “I can go grocery shopping for you this weekend.”
2. Let them vent without judgment
Grief makes you crazy. Grief makes you feel like that drunk person who showed up at the party late and begins misjudging everyone’s actions. Your friend needs to vent. Let them vent and just listen. Let them cry and get it out. Let them know you’re their judgment free zone and what is said to you stays with you.
3. Continue to invite your friend out even if they decline
Grief is exhausting; grief makes you want to stay hidden in your bereavement bunker isolated from the world. Continue to invite your friend out to the places you went before they began grieving. The movies, lunch, dinner, the mall. Your friend may be trying to make sense of a world that was just turned upside down. Even if they keep declining, let them know you will be there when they are ready.
Friends and family return to life, but the immediate family of the deceased is now living a new, horrific normal. After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have been packed away what grieving people need most are friends and family. You can’t stop the rain for your grieving friend, but you can grab an umbrella and share it with them if they are willing to let you in.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at strongertogether@