7 ways to be empathetic to a grieving friend

When you want to comfort a grieving friend, but don't know how.

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  • When someone you care about loses a loved one, the first things you want to do are comfort and lift that person up. But often times we don't know how to go about showing comfort.

  • Every person faces grief differently, and there are so many different emotions that blend together into a vortex of pain and confusion. In our sincere mission to help the person progress through the valley of grief, there are some words of encouragement that could possibly have a negative effect on them. If you have encountered grief in your life, the things that helped you overcome your grief may not work for someone else. We can never fully understand another's grief, but there are ways to express your love and give comfort.

  • 1. Be a good listener

  • In times of sorrow and grief, our first thought is to offer our condolences and comforting words to the griever. The reality is that we cannot fully comfort someone who is grieving; we can only be there for them. Although your words may be accepted with gratitude, don't forget to listen.

  • Especially when the death is sudden and unexpected, it is important to listen to your grieving friend. Watch their body language. Don't ask a lot of questions about the death of their loved one. Wait for them to open up to you in their own time. If they choose to give you details about what happened, do not pry or ask questions until they have finished. Although they may share the same story over and over again, the pain lessens each time.

  • 2. Do not be afraid of emotions

  • Nobody enjoys crying. Especially crying in front of other people. Crying and sadness have always been a stereotype of weakness. That is not the case. Crying is not a weakness, but a strength in being able to express oneself fully to another person.

  • When your grieving friend or family member tells you how they are feeling, it is normal for them to cry. Let them. Don't tell them how strong they are or pressure them into holding in their emotions. Literally offer them your shoulder to cry on. Give them free rein when it comes to expressing their emotions and don't worry about holding back your own tears. Sharing tears with someone who is grieving can do much more for them than a few simple words.

  • 3. Offer your help and follow through

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  • We have all said: "Call me if you need anything" at least once in our lives. What we forget is that they will not call. Although you may be sincere in your words of wanting to help them, your actions will speak louder than words.

  • Think deeply about what you would possibly need during a time of grieving. Offer your help with dropping off meals, cleaning the house, babysitting young children, or helping with funeral services. If they decline your offers, let them be until they admit they need help. Sometimes those grieving need time to sort out the upcoming priorities and to be alone before they can figure out what sort of help they need. If you offer your help before they discover their needs, your presence will remind them that they are not alone.

  • 4. Focus on them

  • If you have ever experienced grief in your life, you may understand a little bit of what they are feeling. You may all be tempted to bring up your own losses and times of grief, and how you were able overcome them, but sometimes mentioning your own grief can backfire.

  • Your relationship with your mom may have been different than theirs. No one is ever under the same circumstances, and because of that, there is no way to truly understand the exact thoughts and feelings the grief-stricken person is facing. Instead, focus on their present pain and circumstances, and do not turn the situation around on yourself.

  • 5. Give them time

  • Everyone wades through their grief at a different pace. Do not expect your friend to be back to their functioning self at a certain time. Suffering a major loss is draining. Give the person time to grieve because they may take longer to heal than you did. Many people have the idea that closure comes only days after the funeral and forget to check-in with the grieving family after the event has taken place. Follow-up with them as the weeks and months go by.

  • 6. Do not erase what happened

  • When comforting a child at the loss of their favorite toy, you often replace their sadness with laughter and the promise of buying a new one. Grief is not as easily derailed.

  • Although looking at the bright side is what the world tells us all to do in times of despair, covering up the pain of grief with positive thoughts can enforce the pain of grief. Even if they believe they will be reunited with their loved ones again after this life, reminding them of that does not numb the pain of the present. Saying: "You can always have another one" when someone loses a child, is not a comforting phrase. Grief subsides with time and they will eventually start to heal. In the present, acknowledge their loss and refrain from looking to the future until they are ready to move forward.

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  • 7. Love them

  • Love truly conquers all. Love your friend. Be sure to show your love and be present in their life, even if you can't do much more than that. Be the guiding light on their darkest days. Remind them how much they mean to you. Be a good listener and console them. Do not be afraid of their grief; help them face it. Try to say the right things at the right time. Give them courage to keep going. Time can heal wounds, and although scars do not always fade, your friend will be eternally grateful for your constant love and support.

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Chakell Wardleigh has a Bachelor of Arts in English. She spends her days silently (mostly) correcting others' grammar. She adores all things nerd, such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare, and anything else that whisks her away from reality. She currently works as an editor for the FamilyShare team. You can usually find her with her nose in a book, laughing too loudly, or belting out songs from Hamilton.

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