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How to Help a Friend Through Grief

Comforting Friend

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” ~Vicki Harrison

I’m no stranger to grief. When I was twenty-three I lost my mum, and then eight years later I lost my second daughter, Grace, when she was only one day old.

Soon after Grace died, my husband and I saw a grief counselor. He said something about other people’s reactions to grief that turned out to be one of the truest statements anyone has ever made to me.

He said, “There will be at least one friend you never hear from again because they don’t know what to say. At least one person will tell you not to worry because you can have another baby. And there will be one shining star—someone who you didn’t consider to be that close a friend—who will be there for you more forcefully and consistently than anyone else.”

All three of his predictions came true.

If you have a friend who is grieving, I know you will want to be their shining star. Grief is awkward and difficult; it’s something we tend to shy away from if we can help it. If you have never experienced grief, you may be at a loss to know what to say or do.

You Don’t Need to Say the Right Thing

In fact, you don’t need to say anything at all. You just need to be there.

It may not feel like much, but your physical presence alone is a comfort—a hug, a hand to squeeze, a presence in the room. These are all important crutches when someone is navigating grief. Remember that you can’t fix this; all you can do is open your arms and open your heart.

There were a few friends I never heard from again after I lost Grace, as the counselor predicted. It seemed so unfair to lose friends at the same time as losing my baby. I wish they had known that I didn’t expect them to say anything profound or heal my pain, but I did expect them to stick around.

Try to Steer Clear of Platitudes

The discomfort and awkwardness outsiders often feel toward grief has given rise to many platitudes over the years. Personally, I would steer clear from saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “It is God’s will.” Even someone with the strongest faith will find that hard to swallow.

Many platitudes are focused on trying to make the griever focus on the future and move on. While the intent is admirable, I just didn’t want to hear that time is a healer and how all would be fine. My grief is a burden I carry with me every day, and while it is true that I have learned to bear the weight of it (most of the time), I will never “get over it.”

Try to consider your friend’s beliefs and values before offering words that you feel may be of comfort. Someone said to me, “Grace and your mum are up there watching over you,” which is a statement that just doesn’t match my beliefs, however much I wish it did.

Instead, I felt slightly annoyed and then guilty for feeling annoyed, because I knew how well-intentioned my friend’s statement was.

Remember Anniversaries

Try to remember anniversaries such as the birthday of the person who died and the anniversary of the date of their death. Sending a card or even just a text on the day will let your friend know that you are remembering too.

I have a friend who always writes Grace’s name on our Christmas card. This means so much to me at a time of year when Grace’s absence from our family is even more keenly felt.

Celebrate Together

Celebrating the life of the person your friend has lost can be as simple as reminiscing and talking about them. You could ask to look at photos and other mementos with your friend or help put together a life book.

Don’t be afraid to mention the person they lost. You may think it kinder to steer clear of the subject, but trust me; your friend will want to talk. Memories are all that remain after a loss, and talking about the person who died really does help to keep them alive.

If your friend is fundraising in memory of their loved one, you could offer to help. My husband and I carried out a lot of fundraising after Grace died, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the wonderful friends who helped out at and supported our events.

Always Remember

Deep loss causes lasting changes—I know I’m not the same person I used to be. Your friend may seem fine one day and angry or depressed the next. It’s all part of grief’s rhythm, which is eternal and has no logic or pattern.

Vicki Harrison’s quote above really sums up what it is like to live after loss. So don’t take it personally if your friend seems distant or has no wish to socialize at times. He or she is just learning to swim.

I can bear the load at times; other times I simply can’t. One of the consequences of my loss is that I have unintentionally become more introverted. Some days I just need to stay in a safe bubble with my little family, because letting the rest of the world in is too difficult.

It’s easy to remember the profound effect grief has on your friend shortly after the loss, but much tougher to keep this in mind months, years, and decades after. I don’t believe that time is a healer; instead, it seems to be an adapter. With much difficulty, I am learning to adapt to life without my loved ones.

The rawness may be dulled with time, but the emotions and sorrow are not. I know it can’t be easy for the friend of a griever, but if you can remember and be there for the long term, you will be the shining star your friend so desperately needs.

Friendship vector via Shutterstock

About Aimee Foster

Aimee Foster is mum to Susie (5), Freddy (1) and baby Grace. She is the co-founder of UK based friendship site, mumamie.com, and has helped thousands of mums reduce the loneliness that sometimes accompanies motherhood by enabling them to find like-minded mums for friendship and support.

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  • Sarah

    Thank you for this insight. My boyfriend just lost his father and I have a very desensitized association with death so I wasn’t sure how to be around him. Thank you for writing this. It came across my Facebook newsfeed in just the right time.

  • lv2terp

    Beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing your insight and advice, it is wonderful and appreciated! 🙂 I am so sorry for your losses! :’-(

  • This is true. After the funeral people go on but you still feel the
    grief. I recently lost my dad and people don’t even ask me anything
    about it. Like it never happened. That hurts. Maybe people are afraid to
    ask but at least it shows your concerned.

  • An excellent post. Thank you.

  • Kitkat

    That was lovely – thank you.

  • Aimee Foster

    Thanks for reading Sarah. I’m sure you are a great support to him x

  • Aimee Foster

    Thanks for reading!

  • Aimee Foster

    Thank you for reading!

  • Aimee Foster

    I think grief makes people so uncomfortable that it’s easier to say nothing. With some people, it seems like they don’t care but they just can’t voice their support. I’m so sorry for your loss

  • Aimee Foster

    Thank you!

  • Mrs Marian Green

    Lots of good advice there. thanks. I lost my mum just seven weeks ago ..

  • Shreyas Desai

    this is really helpful. thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Courtney D

    I love this article. Thank you. So much of it resonates with me. I lost my parents at different times, but I love sitting in a room with her friends and listening to stories and laughs about her. It’s nice to know she was important to others as well as to our family.

  • Firstly, deepest of sympathies and I am truly sorry for your loss. You know, it is so true! People don’t know what to say when a close friend loses a loved one. For me, I never ever know what to say, so I just prefer to keep quiet. My friend lost her cousin the other day and they were close. When I saw her I just said O my darling friend, I am truly sorry for you loss, really I am. And gave her a hug. She hugged me for a long time and started crying and all i did was just hold her. Somehow I personally think that was the best thing I could have done for her and according to your advise it was. Now I know what to do further to be that shining star, a source of encouragement and true friend. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it must not be easy.

  • I’ve lost two immediate family members, so I understand. A lot of people didn’t reach out to me.

    I know that I tend not to mention anything to someone who has experienced a recent loss, because I feared upsetting them even more. I instantly became woeful for awhile after losing a close sibling when someone mentioned it in conversation, or I had to tell them my loved one was no longer with us. I’m at the point now where I don’t get teary-eyed when someone mentions their name. Took years to get that far, but I’m there.

    Perhaps that’s another reason why folks don’t immediately give their condolences; they don’t want to feel as if they’re reopening or adding salt to the wound.