Simple Ways To Help A Grieving Friend

Good morning, dear reader. I’m up early and writing while the house is quiet. I went to bed fairly early last night and woke up naturally at a quarter of six. I feel well-rested, though, so I’m going to give my body what it needs today. At the moment, it’s coffee and some creativity.

I’m going to share some advice today on a topic that is near and dear to me. Grief. I’m no stranger to grief. I’ve lost jobs, sold houses, gotten divorced, attended funerals of those I loved dearly, and watched friendships fall by the wayside. Grief is one emotion that makes no sense because it encompasses so many different emotions like anger, sadness, regret, and loneliness. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of those a day, but most days – especially right after the loss – the tsunami of emotions are hard to deal with.

One of my closest friends’ father-in-law died yesterday, and another acquaintance posted online about it being the anniversary of her sister’s death. It struck me, at that moment, that maybe – just maybe – they were subtly reaching out for a little reassurance or kindness without directly asking for it. I, with my INTJ brain, may have read more into this than necessary, but still. Does it hurt any of us to be kind? No, but it happens so rarely these days that – and I’m not being flippant here – giving the minimal amount of kindness seems to be even more than the majority is handing out. That makes me sad, but I’m also guilty as charged. We all are, I’m sure.

Everyone gets busy, and everyone forgets things, but I don’t think anyone is too busy to stop and acknowledge a friend in need. I’m not talking about helping a person move (Ugh. Worst thing ever.) I’m merely talking about being present. So much of my journey has been about cutting out necessary distractions from my life to have the time to jump in when someone needs me. Again, I don’t think one has to go overboard on platitudes to make a difference. In fact, when it comes to ‘platitudes’ – just don’t. But here are some things you can do…

  1. Acknowledge the loss. One of the ways I tend to do this is to NOT post in the comment section of a grieving friend’s post. I tend to send a short text or private message. If it’s a loss that just happened, I will usually say, “I’m sure you’re bombarded with arrangements and other things right now, but I am here when you need me.” I’ve been through funerals, and, at first, the shock is so great some people jump into action mode (me) while others it in a chair and stare at a wall. Both are acceptable. This brings me to my next point.
  2. Let them grieve. None of us have a right to judge anyone’s grief. I think we all have a personal responsibility to keep an eye on these folks, but judging the behavior isn’t going to help anyone. When my brother died, I lost my fucking mind. I did things to bury my emotions that I am ashamed of, and so many people judged me instead of helping me. Nice segue…
  3. Be a helper. I don’t accept help well. When I read things like “Offer to do laundry” I cringe. Gross. Who wants someone else going through their dirty laundry? So clearly, not my thing, but when I was going through my divorce, the unexpected babysitting was wonderful. I remember shutting the front door as a friend pulled out of my driveway with my son and within minutes I was asleep. My divorce was so stressful for me that I barely ate and never slept. I lost forty pounds in a period of a few short months, and I looked awful. Having someone step in and offer to do the thing I needed most…priceless.
  4. Schedule reminders. My friend, Machell, is someone who always (always!) seems to text me when I need it the most. Another friend texts me every year on my brother’s death anniversary, and I haven’t talked to her in years. Both are important to me. I, myself, absolutely suck at remembering things. Hell, I didn’t get Machell’s birthday right until this year, and we’ve been friends for nearly two decades. I’m. Just. Bad. At. It. Well…if having an autistic child has taught me anything, it’s use the tools provided to you for your success. So now I schedule that shit. I make a note in my calendar of those crucial dates where a friend might need a text or a lunch date or a shot of whiskey at a little dive bar on the west end of town. I’m not naturally good at these things, so I do have to create opportunities to remind myself. Because if I didn’t, it would be months before I remembered to check in on my friends. At least I admit it.
  5. Send gift cards. Everyone brings over a crap ton of food the days after a funeral (which is appreciated, don’t misunderstand me) but there are also days – weeks after – that the grief hits and all the casseroles are gone. I remember getting a card in the mail weeks after my dad died with five gift cards to restaurants that delivered. The card said: I’m thinking of you. You gotta eat. I don’t remember, at all, who brought a casserole that week. But I do remember that card, and it’s been eleven years. I’ve paid this simple gesture forward many times.
  6. Buy the wine and just listen. It’s so tempting to fill the space with verbal platitudes, but honestly, just be quiet. I learned a little trick from my therapist, who merely says, “That’s interesting. Tell me more about that.” I’m a problem-solver, so I immediately want to jump in and fix someone’s problem. The thing is, though, grief isn’t a problem. Grief is an emotion, and with all emotions, it needs to be processed. Just be present and let them process. Your job is to pour the drinks, listen, and call Uber or put sheets on the guest bed.
  7. Be honest. Often we say the dumbest stuff in hopes of making someone feel better. These sayings are well intended, but honestly, they just end up pissing the person who is grieving off. My favorite: “She’s in a better place.” Really? Because to me, ‘a better place’ is around the fireplace at Christmas. My second favorite: “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.” How do you know? He might. Anyway…my point is… I’ve sent many cards saying the God’s honest truth: I don’t even know what to say right now and I’m afraid I’ll say something idiotic. I am devastated by the news and I want you to know that my heart hurts for you.

These suggestions may not be fancy, but they are simple and easy. I promise you, though, the actions I’ve suggested are no less important than grand gestures of assistance. I’ll never let anyone come over and clean my house or do my laundry – but I will let them buy me a drink while I cry it out near a fire. I’ll always allow someone to watch my son while I take care of myself, and I always appreciate the handwritten card that comes in the mail. These things aren’t hard to do, folks; they are hard to remember to do. So, figure it out.

I’m not going to finish out with a song today, but I will link you back to a post I wrote recently about dealing with loss. Remember, dear reader, that grief isn’t logical, so pay attention to those around you and be present for them if you can.