Nearly everyone has lost someone they love, so how can you help a friend or loved one who is grieving?
When you lose someone you love, the grief can be overwhelming. During the festive season, things can be particularly difficult.
Health journalist Rosalind Ryan asks the experts for their advice on how to support someone who is grieving and discovers seven practical ways to show your friend or loved one you care.
1. Be there
“We’re often asked what the right thing to say is, but there isn’t one right thing,” says Andy Langford, spokesperson for Cruse Bereavement Care. “You don’t have to say anything. Just being there is key and actions speak louder than words, so you could ask your friend round for dinner, or go round for a cup of tea.”
2. Be aware that grief doesn’t get better
Grief is not like a broken heart: you won’t find yourself ‘over’ that person in future. “We don’t get over grief, we find a way of living with it,” says Julia Samuel, psychotherapist and author of Grief Works. “While the person who died may always be at the back of your mind, particular triggers can make it feel like it happened yesterday. They will miss that person all the time, but Christmas can intensify those feelings. Ask your friend, ‘How are you feeling this year?’ It’s the love of others that helps us cope.”
3. Remember their loved one
Rather than avoiding the subject, it can be very helpful for your friend to talk about the person they’ve lost. “The relationship we have with someone when they’re alive doesn’t cease when they die. Nor does the impact they had on our lives,” says Langford. Acknowledging this fact and reminiscing with your friend can help them feel more comfortable about opening up. “Creating a space for them where they feel able to talk about their loved one is also really important,” says Langford.
4. Ignore the seven stages
Most of us have heard of the seven stages of grief – shock, guilt, anger, depression, adjustment, reconstruction, acceptance – but we’re all individuals and there isn’t a template for grief. “We still experience those emotions when someone dies, but not in a linear way,” advises Langford. One day your friend may feel angry, the next more positive, then shocked the day after that. “The best thing to do is call or text, and ask ‘How are you today?’ rather than asking if they’re feeling better yet,” says Langford.
5. Help mark the anniversary
“Most people will want to mark the anniversary of their loved one’s death, even if it’s just with something small like lighting a candle,” says Samuel. Your friend may choose to mark a birthday or wedding anniversary, and there are a number of ways you can help. “If their mother died, you could all have a meal of her favourite beef stroganoff, or watch her favourite film. You laugh and cry together, which is very helpful.”
6. Look after their wellbeing
We’re encouraged to overindulge with food and drink at Christmas, but Langford advises otherwise. “Using alcohol to escape the pain of loss only brings temporary relief,” he says.
Keep an eye on your friend to check they’re looking after themselves. Everybody grieves differently, so try not to make them feel as though they are grieving ‘wrong’. Rather than going to the pub, suggest taking a walk together or inviting them round for a coffee.
7. Recommend help – if they want it
Is your friend is struggling to cope? “Don’t tell them they need help, as that can come across as judgemental,” Samuel suggests. “Instead, say that you, your partner or colleague found it useful to talk to someone professionally when you weren’t in a good way.
“Another way to offer help is to tell them you have some names and numbers you can send them, which they may not feel like calling right now but are there when they need them.” Above all, remember you can’t ‘fix’ your friend. Just being there can be a great help.
For further help, get in touch with Cruse Bereavement Care, or call their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
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