A dear friend recently lost her mother to a long battle with cancer. Her grief was overwhelming. I struggled to find the proper words to say and the best ways to support her. I wanted to take this opportunity to show her how much I loved her by helping during this time. What can friends do to help during the grieving process?
Listen, Listen, Listen! A good friend should LISTEN with your heart open. Allow your friend to tell her story without interruption. He/she may feel the need to recount the circumstances of the death over and over again in order to process the loss. She may replay the final conversations or may express regrets. Do NOT offer advice or relate your own experiences. Your friend is not interested in your experiences at this moment. Allow her to express her anger or guilt as these are normal reactions to the shock of death. Give her the gift of a listening, compassionate ear so that she can begin to grieve her loss.
Write down your happy memories. Most often the most appreciated condolences one can receive come in the form of light hearted or humorous stories involving their loved one. Take the time to write them down so that your friend can treasure these memories for years to come.
Avoid using cliches. As friends, we want so much to provide comfort and to come up with the appropriate thing to say that will ease suffering. Unfortunately, we often choose phrases that sound good but can unintentionally inflict more pain. Common phrases to avoid include the following: "at least she is out of pain now", "You were fortunate to have had so many great years together", "It's really a blessing in disguise", "time will heal the pain", "I know just how you feel"...etc.
Offer specific help. There's nothing worse than being in a position of need and having a friend say "Let me know if you need anything." In all likelihood you will never pick up the phone and ask for help even though you desperately need it. As a friend, offer a specific way that you plan to help. For example, you could offer to clean the home or bring by a home made meal on a certain date. Plan to be available to your friend in the months to come. There is often a lot of assistance offered in the days following a death. Rare is the friend who sticks around weeks or months later to lend a hand.
Most of us want to comfort a dear friend after a significant loss but find ourselves ill equipped and awkward. It's ok...just be yourself! Offer the kind of help that feels most natural to you.
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