Losing someone you love can be one of the single most devastating things a person can experience, especially if it comes as an unexpected blow.
If you know someone struggling with that kind of loss, it can be difficult to know how to behave around them, particularly if you’ve never been through it yourself. Even if you have, every relationship is different and everyone grieves differently, so there’s no guarantee that what comforted you will comfort someone else.
While it is never easy to help someone through such an awful experience, there are some things that will always offer at least a little reassurance.
TALK TO THEM ABOUT WHAT WILL HELP THE MOST
Maybe they won’t know. Maybe they don’t know if they want to talk or not to talk, if they want to hold a memorial with friends or they want to be alone. But it’s always best to ask them how they want to handle this. They are likely to know better than anyone what will ease them through it. Let them change their mind as time goes on. Let them know that you are prepared to do whatever they need you to.
LET THEM TALK AS MUCH AS THEY NEED TO
Some people are very good at vocalising their feelings. Others aren’t. Whenever they are ready to speak, make sure that you are willing to listen. It can be a huge relief to them to say everything they need to say. Emotions become easier to handle once they’ve been explained aloud. There are going to be a lot of things they wish they could say to their lost one. Listen patiently and sympathetically to whatever they need to get out of their system and you will do them a world of good.
DO NOT RUSH THEM
Even though there are a number of milestones that a person can recognise in the grieving process, there is no set amount of time that each will take. Different people will approach this progression in a different way. One of the worst things you can do to someone struggling through it is to make them feel guilty for taking ‘too long’. They will get through it in their own time and it is neither respectful nor helpful to impose on that.
GIVE THEM SPACE
There is only so much that you can do and a lot of this process may need to take place in private. Now, they are going to feel as vulnerable as they ever will. As much as they love and trust you, it may take time for them to be able to confide in you. Let them have their space whenever they want it.
ACCEPT THAT THEY WILL BE DEPRESSED AND IRRITABLE
Mood swings, even after they seem quite well recovered, are very common. Irritability, including lashing out at those closest to them, is far from unusual. Grieving comes with a short temper, an inability to put up with minor nuisances and a fear of getting caught in a loop of misery. While grief doesn’t give anyone an excuse to treat other people like dirt, a little bit of irritability never hurt anyone all that much. Understand that this might happen. Talk to them honestly and don’t ever lash back.
SHOW THEM THAT LIFE CAN CARRY ON AS NORMAL
For a while, things are going to slow down. They might need to take time off work or cancel a few social engagements. Part of being there for them is knowing when to ease them back into normal life. If they don’t want to talk about their loss, then talk about something else. Do the sorts of things you’d usually do. They’re still the same friend they’ve always been, they’re just sensitive.
NEVER EVER MAKE THEM FEEL LIKE A BURDEN
It’s not easy to be around someone stuck in a dark place. It can be awkward, it’s usually not fun and they can be irritable. But they know that. If you don’t have the patience to deal with it, that’s your problem. Don’t make it theirs. They have enough to handle already. And the truth is that they probably know that it’s difficult being around them. They know because they don’t get a break. They have to put with the misery and the mourning and the grumpiness. They don’t have a choice. And they don’t need you making things worse by being insensitive and outright.
KNOW THAT THE LOSS WILL NEVER LEAVE THEM
Eventually, the grieving process will be over. Your friend will go back to a largely normal life. They’ll laugh again, they’ll see all their friends again, they’ll go back to work. But don’t ever expect things to be completely better. It’s not over. They will always have a space where someone they loved used to be, and that is one of the most difficult things someone can get accustomed to. Understand this and respect it and your help will be infinitely valuable even long after the loss.
Author Bio – Kirstie Summers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.