(Photo by Βethan)
I will never forget the first time I attended a funeral. I was eight years old and horrified that I was expected to approach a grieving woman and offer my condolences. What could I possibly have to say to console my mother’s friend? How can “I’m sorry for your loss” ever be enough?
Comforting a grieving friend can make us feel helpless, uncomfortable, even guilty. These feelings can often paralyze us, tempting us to do nothing or even avoid our grieving loved one altogether. As adults we are faced with grief more often, but the feeling of inadequacy associated with it never really goes away.
This past month I was forced to deal with grief once more, this time it was my own grief. The passing of my one-year-old nephew, John Paul, caused a kind of suffering that I had never experienced before. The days surrounding my nephew’s passing was a time to be consoled, but also a time to be there for the rest of my family. Amid the overwhelming love that surrounded my family and me, I was taught some important lessons about how to be there for someone in a time of grief.
Acknowledge the loss. Many of us have programmed ourselves to avoid suffering at all costs; so when a loved one is suffering from grief, hiding or pretending the loss never happened may seem like the most comfortable alternative. But doing nothing only comforts ourselves. People who are grieving the loss of a loved one rarely want to forget their loved one, and pretending it did not happen can make those who are grieving feel isolated.
Be present. Being there for a grieving friend can be scary. A common fear is that you may somehow contribute to or exacerbate the pain by saying or doing the wrong thing, but being present during a time of grief can mean different things depending on your relationship and character strengths. If you are afraid to say the wrong thing you can always just be silent and let acts of kindness or service do the talking. I know that in the past few weeks, every kind word or act of love was deeply felt and immensely comforting to me. Whether its a note, a phone call, flowers, or running an errand—gestures of love and support show you are there for them.
Be attune to grieving temperaments. When dealing with loss, I find it helpful to be near loved ones and find comfort in physical touch, but not everyone grieves this way. People grieve differently and its important to be attune to our loved ones' individual ways of coping. We tend to want to comfort others the way we would want to be comforted, but it’s important to use our friends individual grieving temperament as a guide.
Most people feel ill-equipped to deal with the grief of a loved one, and that’s okay. As these tips show, you don’t have to be a grief counselor to be there for a grieving friend, even if you do have to look beyond your own comfort zone.
Monica Gabriel is the Web Editor of
and Co-Host of
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