Caring for a Grieving Friend: Dos and Don'ts From an Empath's Firsthand Perspective

Updated on May 2, 2018
Holley Hyler profile image

Holley Hyler is a freelance writer and has been published in Adelaide, Buck Off Magazine, Rebelle Society, and The Urban Howl.

We all experience loss, within our own timing.

Many of us have been on both sides of grief—either experiencing it directly, through the loss of a beloved family member or friend, or indirectly, through a friend who has lost someone important. When it is direct, we need the compassion of others, but how can we give compassion in an indirect scenario? What can one say or do to ease, or at least not add to, the suffering of the grieving one? This article is about exactly that.

Source

Do be your usual self, but don't expect them to stay the same.

Loss can change a person in ways that are not easy to recognize or explain. The extent of the change will depend on the individual situation. The person going through it may sense the changes in himself, but may not be able to describe them or communicate his new needs very well. Perhaps the changes will be permanent, or they may wear off as the grief is given time to process. This will take time to become clear, both to your friend and to you. Even if the person your friend lost was not an extremely close relationship, or it was complicated, this still applies.

But this does not mean you need to change. On the contrary, the steadier you can remain, while also being sensitive and compassionate, the more of a comfort you can be. Everyone handles death in different ways - some will want to recount memories of the person they lost, while others would prefer not to talk and process on their own. This may take a bit of intuition for you to figure out, but either way will not require extreme changes in you, unless you have tended to lean on them for support often in the past. In this case, the nature of the relationship will change a bit. They will need you now, so it may be best to go to someone else for your own support in the meantime.

Do listen, but don't talk much until you have a better sense of your friend's emotions.

Most of us know better than to say, "I know exactly how you feel," or relate something in our lives to the loss that someone else is facing. But there are many things people say that can be akin to those statements. Even something like, "You are so lucky to have such supportive people helping you through this time! Your boss was nice to let you have an extra week off." Even if that is true, it doesn't take away from what the person is experiencing. We all face certain restrictions in our lives, and that sucks. No one really wants to go back to their desk job after a pivotal and sad event in their lives - it says a lot about the world we live in, the fact that understanding, generous employers are so rare that one is deemed "lucky" to have one.

It is important to remember that grief is a process. It does not stop when someone is buried or cremated. It does not stop when their affairs are settled, when the bank accounts are closed, and the house is emptied and sold. It does not stop when the grieving person's routine picks back up. In many ways, life after saying goodbye can be so much worse - having to go back to the daily grind, to the small talk, to the mundane chores, when all one feels is this void, and all these complicated emotions rolled into one: depression. Perhaps not everyone will go through this, but it is important to be prepared to care for someone who is. Make no assumptions about where your friend is in the grieving process and emotional scale, but treat him with utmost care.

Listen when your friend shares with you about what they are going through, and ask questions. Don't make assumptions about how they are feeling, or say anything that may suggest they should be handling things differently. If you don't know what to say, either admit this freely and authentically or say nothing.

Source

Do talk about ordinary things, but try not to complain for a while.

It's inevitable that life goes on. Some facing a loss will not want it to, while others may feel some measure of relief by getting back into a routine. Some may feel trapped by routine, more so than before, given a new reason to press their lives for meaning. To live their purpose before time runs out. Grief can inspire a number of deeper thoughts; not everyone is willing to go there, and again, you can use your intuition to figure out which category your friend falls into. If he seems open to it, by all means, go back to talking about the things you normally discussed before anything happened.

The only caveat to this is, it may be better if you drop your inclinations to gripe or complain for a while. This goes back to the point about your friend changing - while you don't have to change, the nature of your friendship may change. If you ordinarily rely on your friend for support and guidance, you may have to go from leaning on your friend for support, to providing support, and save your complaints or heavier issues for someone who has less on their mental and emotional plates.

Source

Do be thoughtful, but don't agonize over saying the right thing.

It is hard to be there for someone who is grieving. They can be more sensitive, and you may often feel as though you are not doing enough for them, or you're not doing the right things. It is more important not to do the wrong things than it is to get everything exactly right. Treat your friend with sensitivity, and let them show you, through their actions or what they say, how they need you to be. This will come more naturally to people who tend to be listeners, but everyone can struggle with it. We aren't often taught to settle into pain and silence. We feel pressured to be happy, no matter the situation, to cover up "awkward" silence with chatter.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who is in pain is leave them alone. This is far more comforting than mindless chatter. If you truly do not know what to say, it is best to let the person know you are there for them, and back away. If they feel comfortable reaching out to you, or feel you are able to relate to them at all, they will ask for your help. If you know the person well enough, you can volunteer to do certain things for them - for instance, if you know they like a certain lunch spot, offer to go get food from there out of the blue one day. If you don't know the person well, they haven't reached out to you, and they don't respond to your small gestures of friendship, leave them be. No one wants to be rescued or feel as though anything is being forced upon them.

Do be considerate of their needs and boundaries, but not at the expense of your own.

If your friend is drastically changed by his experience, you may find that the two of you don't mesh as well as you did in the past. You may find that you prefer different activities, think differently about conflict and problems, and prioritize differently. It is important to look at this as part of the changes your friend is going through and part of his grieving process, rather than see it as being wrong. Both of you will change throughout your lives, and in some cases, this may be gradual, and in others, sudden. It can leave you wondering what happened or what you did, but in many cases, it may not be related to you personally at all.

Don't wait around for someone, especially if they tell you upfront not to wait or express that they won't be able to make plans with you. Your friend's loss can mean a loss for you as well - a loss of the person you once hung out with, a lessening or absence of certain traits that once brought you comfort. It is best to acknowledge this fact silently, as making it known aloud can seem like putting pressure on the other person to make himself be something he no longer is. People grow and change, and many relationships end because people are not growing and changing together. Whether or not you will grow together is, again, something that becomes more apparent through time. Don't feel as though you must slam any doors, but don't constantly hover around a door that is just slightly ajar, either.

Stay active in your own interests and your other relationships. To become overly worried about another person to a point where your overall contentment depends upon theirs is codependency. The last thing a grieving person wants to be is depended upon for anything, even small things. If you have been loving toward them consistently in the past, he will have no doubt that you care and are there for him. But some people prefer to help themselves, to process for themselves, to isolate for a while. In that situation, the most loving thing you can do is let them.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Holley Hyler

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Jenny Rojas 

        2 months ago

        You nailed this!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pairedlife.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pairedlife.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)