When your best friend failed her math test, you helped her study for the next one and she did better. When she got rejected by the guy she liked, you encouraged her to find a new crush. But now her brother died unexpectedly and, well-you have NO idea how to handle this one.
When someone is grieving, he or she needs the love and support of friends more than ever. But often, these friends don't know how to give that love and support at such an awkward, strange time. Here are some guidelines:
Just listen. When someone you know is dealing with death, you may feel like you need to say something, like there's some piece of advice or wisdom that will make everything better. In reality, there isn't anything you can say that will magically make your friend stop hurting, but you CAN help by listening. By giving your friend a chance to let out his or her thoughts and feelings, you're helping him or her move through the grieving process. When you listen, keep an open mind and a closed mouth. Don't judge or offer opinions; just accept anything he or she has to say.
Offer a hug. Offering a hug, or just putting your arm around a friend who is grieving, can work wonders. Girls are usually more comfortable with this than guys, but even guys should know that touch -- even a hand on the back -- can be a powerful way to say, "I'm here for you." However, try to make sure that your friend is comfortable with this. Everybody grieves differently, and some people may not be ready for the emotion that contact can bring.
Just be there. Sometimes a friend who is dealing with loss isn't ready to talk yet, but you can help just by being there. He or she will be glad that friends are standing by to offer support and acceptance. If your friend would prefer to be alone with his or her grief for a while, try saying something like, "That's cool. I know you need space right now. But remember that I'm here for you when you need someone to talk to, or just hang out with."
Keep being a friend. If your friend has lost someone, his or her life has changed in major ways. He or she will need to hold onto the things that HAVEN'T changed, like your friendship. It may become really important to keep doing all the things you did together before, whether it's playing video games, shopping at the mall, shooting baskets, or watching movies. On the other hand, your friend may not be ready to jump back into normal activities and need more time alone. Either way, accept what's going on, try not to "walk on eggshells," and keep being the person your friend knows and loves.
Here are a few things NOT to do when your friend is grieving:
Don't give pep talks. If a friend is upset because he missed a foul shot in basketball, it's okay to say, "Hey, don't feel bad, you'll get the next one!" But if someone is upset about losing a loved one, he probably doesn't want to hear things like, "You've got to get over it," or "You'll feel better soon." Grief is difficult, complicated, and can last a long time. Accept that you can't make everything all right by coming up with an encouraging phrase.
Don't try to "rescue" your friend. You can offer support, a shoulder to cry on, and an understanding ear, but you can't single-handedly make your friend's grief go away. Your friend is going to have to work through the pain at his or her own pace, and there's nothing you can do or say to change that.
Don't act like you know just how your friend feels. Unless you have dealt with the death of a loved one, you can't fully understand everything your friend is going through. Saying something like, "I know exactly how you feel. My dog died last year," might just make her feel more isolated from you, and maybe even angry. Accept that you can't know what's going on inside his or her head.
Don't act like your friend is made of glass. If a friend just lost his dad, you might feel like you shouldn't talk about your own dad around him, so you might exclude him from conversations or whisper so he can't hear you. This is just going to make your friend feel different and excluded, when this is probably the last thing he wants to feel. Be sensitive about what you may be talking about, but know that the less you try to "shield" this person from what goes on in everyday life, the more comfortable he'll be.
In the next section, we talk about Pet Loss.