Things You Should Know About Your Grieving Friend
A friend has suffered a horrible loss. It's not something you've been through. You feel like you're always fumbling for the right thing to say/do. That's normal. But just like they're forced to get "good" at grieving, you can get good at supporting them by taking the time to understand some of what grief really looks like. Know that:
- They aren't going to get over it. Erase the phrase "get over it" from your vocabulary. Don't think they're going to get over it. Don't tell them they'll get over it. Don't ask them if they're over it. The grief will change. They’ll learn to live with it. That's not getting over it.
- Their grief journey isn't linear. It's a pretty normal assumption: That you start at the bottom and work your way up. That once it feels easier it won't suddenly get tough again. That the way out is a straight line. What the line really looks like: peak and valleys. Erratic. Unpredictable. Days that feel easier followed by ones that slam you down so hard you can barely function. Don't mistake a day in which your friend seems lighter or more like their "old" selves as them getting over it (see above!). Keep asking "how's today?"
- Their outside may not match their inside: Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearances. Just because they look OK doesn't mean they are. Saying "you look great" can make them feel extremely isolated and make them feel pressure to continue to look "OK." Again, just keep giving them openings. "Tell me how you’re feeling today."
- Big life events are now bittersweet. Death creates a very weird duality. The happiest moments are sad moments too because you're so acutely aware that you're doing this without your person. Big days and big milestones (holidays, birthdays, vacations, when their kids achieve something, when they achieve something) can be both wonderful and awful for your friend. A text acknowledging this, or flowers or a coffee drop-off or any gesture at all, will help them feel seen.
- Your happy news might be hard for them. Some time after my husband died, a friend told me she was pregnant. I was so happy for her. I was so sad for me. Her news pushed so many of the conversations Ben and I had about wanting another child into the forefront: the right timing, the name we liked most, how the family dynamic would change. It's that weird duality again, where the joy and the heartbreak coexist. Remember it's there.
- They're going to change. In one of my first sessions with her, my therapist said that my husband’s death was going to change me. She didn't know in what way, only that it was inevitable. She was right. I feel very different in so many ways. Some less appealing (I'm less tolerant when people get distraught over minor problems), some more (I find it much easier to give my time and energy to help people out). Give your friend the space to change. Let your friendship flex.