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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

How to support a friend who has lost a loved one

Updated: Apr 8

Grief leaves many of us tongue-tied. Not knowing the right thing to think or do or say. And this can leave us feeling helpless, when we want to support a friend who has lost a loved one. I've put together a few things to think about, to help you to offer emotional and practical support, if you have a friend who has lost a loved one.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to say.  Your friend probably doesn’t know what to say either.  But at times of loss, it’s usually best to reach out - even if you don’t know quite what to say - rather than staying silent.  Our friends are always grateful to know that we care.  And in the early days, they might be swamped with caring messages.  So make it clear that there’s no need for them to reply.  


Specific practical support.  When we lose a loved one, everyone rallies round with vague, well-meaning offers of support.  ‘Let me know if I can do anything’.  But when we’re struggling through the quagmire of loss, it’s hard to know where to start.  And we might feel uncomfortable asking for help with tasks.  So be specific about what you’re able to offer.  ‘I’d like to bring round dinner for you on Tuesday or Wednesday, is one of those better for you, or shall l do both?’.  ‘I’m great at admin, and I bet there’s lots of paperwork, how about I come round on Saturday morning and we can make a list together?’.  There are also a number of websites that enable you to plan a meal rota, so that friends and family can share the responsibility of nourishing their friend.  And it avoids the risk of offering twenty casseroles in the first week, and none the week after.  


Be there once the initial mourning period ends.  Different cultures and communities have a different timeframe in the early days of grief and loss.  Mourning and funeral plans offers us a structure and a project to plan.  It’s once this period is over that we can find ourselves feeling lost or rudderless.  As if the world is expecting us to move on but we are not yet ready or we don’t know how.  There may be flashpoints as they go through the first year of loss - the first birthdays, holidays, celebrations without their loved one.  This is when your friend will need your continued support.  


Keep the invitations coming.  It might take a while for your friend to feel like socialising.  Or they might be ready right from the start.  Or they might vacillate between wanting to go out and want to stay in.  Keep including them and inviting them, so that they know where you are when they are ready.  


Expect the unexpected.  Grief isn’t linear, and it doesn’t always come with the same sad and feelings.  It’s likely that your friend will be feeling sad, but there are also a swathe of other emotions that might join them in their grief.  Anger, shock, frustration, helplessness, depression, numbness, resentment.  Sometimes unexpected feelings may arise too.  If their loved one had been unwell or suffering, there might be a sense of relief.  If their loved one died suddenly and unexpectedly, then they might struggle to accept that they have gone.  It’s important that they have space to express and explore their feelings.  


Remember to make space for your own grief.  If your friend has lost a loved one, you might feel your own sense of loss if you were close to the person who has died.  We often suppress this sense of loss, as we feel as if we should be focusing our attention on our friend.  Remember to find a way to process your own thoughts and feelings that come up.  


Know when to call for expert help.  Being a supportive friend is not the same role as a trained mental health professional.  If you think that your friend needs more support, then let them know about the many different organisations that are available.  Cruse Bereavement Support is a great place to start.  

If you want to read more about grief, then here's a link to an article that I've contributed to in Yahoo News, all about the concept of the five stages of grief.

Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.

If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.

How to support a friend who has lost a loved one

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