Friday, April 01, 2016

Five Ways to Support a Grieving Friend

It was ten years ago that my mom passed away at the age of 53. Although I do think of what might have been almost every day, grieving throughout her illness and then after her passing has allowed me to move through the pain. I can still feel sad but it doesn't hurt like it used to. I'm thankful for all those who supported throughout that time until this day. Each person is entitled to their feelings when going through loss or struggle or pain and we can't decide who deserves to feel what amount. When you have a friend that has experienced loss – whether it's the loss of a hope/dream of physical loss  – what do you do? I'll tell you what I appreciated.

How to Support a Grieving Friend

1. Say something. Anything...well, maybe not something that starts with "At least...".  You might be too scared to say the wrong thing or just too nervous that you'll make the person cry but just acknowledge it. "I'm so sorry, it must be so hard", "I can't even imagine how you must be feeling", "I think of you often", "Your_____ was an amazing person" "I remember your ______ did_______". You don't even have to say it verbally, you can email/text/message it. Then, if they talk, just listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.

2. Do practical things. Bring a meal. Take the kids to the park. Clean their bathroom. Scan old photos for the memorial.  Mow their lawn. Give a box of Kleenexes with a note attached. Give them flowers to brighten up their home. Bring a coffee – I wasn't a coffee drinker but a friend gave me a frappuccino and I really appreciated the thought. Cookies, who doesn't love cookies?! I know it's so easy to say, "Let me know if I can do anything!" but most people would not ask for help or even know what to ask for.  I really appreciated that friends came to my mom's memorial to support me – I can still see their faces smiling at me as I was up front speaking.

3. Remember and acknowledge. Once the memorial is over, things get tough; you get through the day but then reality sets in. It's important to remember that if the person lost their father, then Father's Day will be tough. The first Christmas will be tough. The first Thanksgiving will be tough. Their birthday will be tough. A wedding in the family will be tough. The birth of a baby will be tough. Celebrations are just tough. They do get better but just saying "Thinking of you today!" helps. Also, if you have any pictures or stories of the loved one that has passed away, please share them! I would love more information about my mom that she just didn't get the chance to tell me. If they start talking about their loved ones, listen. It is so therapeutic for me to talk about my mom and my memories of her as it keeps those memories alive.

4. Invite them out. I appreciated being busy. Whether it was going for a walk and having a conversation, or playing a sport, being active and talking with others helped me to start feeling a little bit more...normal. It would be easy to just sit at home and think and think and think. It's healthy to mourn and process but it's also beneficial to get some fresh air, exercise, and stay part of the real world.  

5. Be sensitive to triggers. Whenever someone said the word "cancer", "mom", "death", or "grandma", I felt a little dagger stab my heart, especially in the first year after her passing.  Think about what the trigger words might be, or if you're close, have a conversation about it.  There were also situations which hurt my heart like when I saw grandmas with their grandkids.  The feeling now is more one of happiness for others rather than bitterness.  If someone lost their mom, please don't complain about yours. If you catch yourself saying something that might hurt the other person, acknowledge it, we're all human. It may be awkward, but a "Wow, I'm sorry, that wasn't very sensitive" is appreciated.

 I'm no expert and everyone is different. Maybe you need to ask the person, "Would you like to talk about your _____?" "I would love to talk about ______ anytime you like." " ______ sounds like an amazing person."  For those of you who have experienced loss, what did you find helpful?


**This is a modified version of a post I wrote six years ago**

Please pin here for later:

From what to say to what action to take, here are some simple tips to help a grieving friend.


  1. I love when someone tells a story about mom, especially from an uncle or Oma who reminds me of her ;)

  2. I never met your mom but have loved hearing about her through you!

  3. Great, great, great advice! All of it spot on. I just lost my mum 3 weeks ago. It's still early yet but, everything you've described is right. Sometimes just reading a post like this helps because we know that someone else understands what it's like. Thank you Louise.

    1. Sandy, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss--so recent too. I hope you have supportive family and friends to help you during this time!

    2. Thank you, Louise. I sure do, thank goodness. Very grateful for the love and support around me.

  4. Yes, to all of this. Grief is a lonely place. Having a friend who is not afraid of your tears is a godsend.