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Grief and Loss

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Helping A Grieving Friend

As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of making the person feel bad. As a result, people who are grieving often feel more isolated or lonely in their grief.

People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings. Below are some ways that you can help a friend experiencing loss.

Be sure to:

  • Communicate to your friend that you want to be a part of their grieving process and that you are comfortable listening to their pain. Remember that grief takes time to learn to live with and never goes away, so be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death.
  • Encourage your friend to open up about their grieving process with friends, family, and others who have grieved during college. Encourage your friend to honor their deceased loved one through service to others or an activity that their deceased loved one enjoyed.
  • If you are concerned about their safety, encourage them to call either:
  • Empathize with the pain they are going through. However, just knowing that you are there for support will be an immense source of strength. Remember that you can’t take away their pain, but you can let them know they are not alone.
  • Be genuine in your communication and don’t hide your feelings. Example: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.” Express your concern. Example: “I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
  • Offer to be helpful in concrete ways rather than as a general statement (“I’m happy to come over and make dinner one night if you need.” vs. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”). Follow through with your offer and repeat as needed.
  • Listen in a non-judgmental manner and let them tell their story as many times as they need or want to. Be a good listener. Allow periods of silence – offer silent support.

Don’t:

  • Use simplistic, overused statements to calm them down (“They are in a better place now” or “Look at what you have to be thankful for”)
  • Compare loss. Even if you have a significant loved one of yours has died, don’t claim that you understand what they are going through. Every death is different. Plus, that takes the focus away from them and puts it on you.
  • Tell them what to do. Giving advice about what your friend should or shouldn’t be doing in his/her own grief process.
  • Pass judgment on your friend’s timeline of grief— there is no set time and, remember, grief is not a linear process.
  • Encourage them to make major changes in their life— let the grief process take its course
  • Try to “Fix” them or make it all better - grief is a natural process
  • Make statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.” These statements are too directive. Begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might consider…”
  • Make assumptions that someone is doing great based on their outward appearances - grieving is an internal process (feelings, body sensations, and other individual differences that may never be seen).
  • Avoid using the deceased person’s name

Additional Resources for Helping a Grieving Friend: