How to Help Someone Overcome the Loss of a Relative
Grief is something that eventually strikes us all, and we rely on support from friends to make it through. Being a patient listener, staying reliable and making good on offers to help out are the best ways to be there for someone who is dealing with loss. While there's nothing you can do to speed the mourning process along, you can be the bright light that helps your friend get through the darkest times. See Step 1 and beyond to learn what to say and do.
Knowing What to Say
Acknowledge what happened.Death is not easy to talk about, and many people have trouble bringing up the subject. But avoiding the topic because it makes you uncomfortable isn't going to help out your friend. You may think that talking about other topics will be a good distraction, but your grieving friend won't find it easy to laugh at jokes or talk about random subjects. Ignoring the biggest issue in your friend's life is not the way to support him or her, so be brave enough to bring up the topic instead of awkwardly acting like it didn't happen.
- Don't be afraid to say the word "died." Don't say "I heard what happened." Say "I heard the news that your grandmother died." When you say what's true, even if it's painful, you're showing your friend that you're willing to talk about the hard things in life. Your friend needs someone who gets it and is capable of going there.
- Name the person who died. Saying the person's name might cause tears to come, but it will help your friend to know the person who died still matters to other people.
Express concern.Tell your friend how sorry you are about the fact that his or her relative died. Telling your friend that you're sorry and you love him or her will help your friend feel comforted. Giving your friend a hug or touching him or her on the shoulder can also help communicate your sorrow for what your friend is going through. Say the words "I'm sorry."
Be genuine.Since death is so hard to talk about, it can be difficult to express your true feelings to your friend. But using one of the dozens of cliches people say to make talking about death easier isn't actually going to be very helpful. If you tell your friend your honest feelings, you'll sound more sincere, and your friend will be more likely to turn to you when he or she needs someone to listen.
- Avoid saying things like "She's in a better place," or "She'd want you to be happy right now." You don't actually know that, do you? Hearing these empty statements isn't very helpful.
- If you're having trouble putting your feelings into words, it's ok to say something along the lines of "I just don't know what to say. I can't express how sorry I am."
Ask how the person is feeling.You might assume this would be a common question, but many people are a little afraid to ask or just don't want to deal with the answer. When your friend is at work or with acquaintances, he or she probably has to pretend like everything's ok. That's why as the person's friend, giving him or her the space to talk can be really helpful. You'll need to be ready to accept your friend's answer, even if it's difficult to hear.
- Some people might not want to be asked how they're feeling. If your friend doesn't seem to want to talk about it, don't push him or her to say more.
- If your friend does decide to open up, encourage him or her to talk for as long as it helps. Don't try to change the subject, or inject cheer into the conversation; just let the person be expressive and release all the emotions he or she normally has to hold back.
Don't judge.Let the person be himself, no matter what that means. Everyone has different responses to losing a relative, and there's really no right or wrong way to feel. Even if your friend is having a reaction you don't think you would have, it's important to allow the person to express his or her feelings without your judgement.
- Be prepared to get to know your friend in a deeper way, and see him or her act in ways you may not be used to. Despair and grief can erupt in many different ways. Your friend might feel denial, anger, numbness, and a million other emotions in response to his or her grief.
Don't say "time heals".Time might take away the initial sting, but when a close relative dies, life will never be the same. The idea that time heals makes it seem like there's a deadline after which people should feel "normal" again, but for many people that will never happen. Instead of focusing on helping the person "get over" his or her grief, focus on being a source of support and joy in that person's life. Never pressure your friend to mourn more quickly.
- Forget the "five stages of grief." There is no actual timeline for grief, and everyone handles it differently. While thinking about grief as a series of stages might be helpful to some, for many people it simply doesn't apply. Don't hold your friend to any kind of timeline.
Don't say "you're so brave".This common sentiment sounds caring, but it can make people who are grieving feel worse. That's because calling someone brave makes it seem as though you expect them to stand tall even while they're suffering. When someone has lost a relative, they may have times when they stumble and fall. A good friend like yourself shouldn't expect someone to act courageous all the time when his or her world has just been turned upside down.
Knowing What to Do
Handle tears with grace.People are very vulnerable when they cry. Your reaction when your friend breaks down in tears can either be really helpful or extremely harmful. The best way to handle tears is with acceptance and love, rather than awkwardness or disgust. Know that your friend is going to cry from time to time, and be prepared to handle his or her tears in a positive, helpful way instead of making him or her feel worse.
- Think ahead about how you'll react if your friend cries when you're together. Prepare to give him or her a hug, continue making eye contact, and stay for as long as necessary.
- Leaving the room, looking away, making a joke or somehow cutting off the conversation can leave the person feeling embarrassed that he or she cried.
Answer your messages.Being reliable is more important than ever when your friend is going through the loss of a relative. Answering or returning phone calls is a big deal. Make sure to return texts and respond to messages of any kind when your friend is going through a period of mourning. If you tend to be on the flaky side in this arena, make an extra effort to be present for your friend.
Help out.Ask your friend how you can help make things easier during the first few months after his or her relative died. Don't just say "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help"; many people will say those words, and they usually don't really intend to get involved. If you really want to make a difference, ask for concrete things you can start doing to make life a little easier for your friend and his or her family. Here are a few things you could do:
- Make food or bring food to your friend and his/her family. Or, if you're challenged by the kitchen, you could bring them nice carry-out.
- Give people rides
- Do household chores
- Take care of the person's pets
- Get the person's homework assignments
- Make phone calls to inform people about the person's loss
Find little ways to be thoughtful.A good way to express your support for your friend is to show your friend you're thinking about him or her. Go above and beyond to be thoughtful more often than you normally would. The small ways in which you show your friend you care can be as meaningful as having a big heart-to-heart conversation. Try doing the following:
- Make cookies or bake a cake
- Take the person out to the movies or go for a walk in the park
- Send a thoughtful card in the mail
- Email the person more often
- Include the person in more social activities
- Give the person gifts every once in a while
Be patient and understanding.Your friend might not be the same for a long time. He or she might seem sad, distracted or a little less energetic for months or even years after a close relative passes away. Being a good friend means staying in the friendship even when someone goes through big changes, and if you love your friend, you won't expect him or her to "bounce back" - you'll go along for the ride.
- Don't pressure your friend to do activities he or she no longer finds fun.
- Understand that your friend might go through serious problems after the loss of a relative. Sometimes people turn to addictive behaviors or experience major depression as a result of grief and trauma. If you're worried that your friend might harm him or herself, help your friend get help.
Be a steady presence.After a few months, most people will get wrapped up in their own busy lives and stop thinking about your friend's loss. But your friend will need support for more than just a few months after losing a close relative. Be there for your friend for as long as he or she needs a little extra help and care.
- Check in on the anniversary of your friend's relative's death. Ask your friend how he or she is doing.
- The best thing you can do for your friend is just to be there. If they call, talk or set up plans. If they don't, send a card saying you're thinking of them. It's best to let them grieve while you offer your embrace and your love.
QuestionIs it OK to be nervous to go to a friend's relative's funeral?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, that's totally normal. You're going into an emotionally-charged situation in which many of the people are unfamiliar to you. But being there to be supportive of your friend will be the best thing you can do for him or her during this time.Thanks!
QuestionMy friend's grandma died, and she's been acting normally. I did the same thing when my cousin died, since it hadn't kicked in yet. What do I do for her?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust comfort her in simple ways. Ask her if she wants to talk about anything. Don't push her into talking. Keep checking up on her. Let her know you love her and you care.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do if my friend does not seem to want to talk or see people, including me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust make sure your friend knows that you're available if they do decide they want to talk, and be patient. Sometimes people need some time on their own to process their grief before talking about it.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can you do if your friend is currently in another state or country, and you can't do anything physically to comfort?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTexting and emailing. Check in periodically and ask how your friend is doing, and if there's anything you can do to help. Coordinate a Skype get-together if your friend is up to it. Just express that you're there during this time.Thanks!
QuestionShould I distract her from the thought of her relative?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDistracting your friend may not be the best idea. It's better to talk about her relative than keeping it in the dark.Thanks!
QuestionMy uncle died. What can I do for my aunt?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDepending on what your uncle did in the household, you could try to perform some of those tasks, i.e. laundry, cooking, cleaning the house. Even if he didn't do some of those things, still offer to help around the house and/or bring warm food that lasts for a while, such as lasagna or pizza. Try to stay with your aunt and talk to her; she may just need someone to talk to. If she's still going through the funeral arrangements, try to help with that in any way possible.Thanks!
QuestionShould I ask what my friend's grandmother was like before she died?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, this would be a nice thing to ask your friend since it would give her an opportunity to talk about her grandmother in a positive way.Thanks!
QuestionHow should I react when my mom's sister dies if we weren't close?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThanks!
QuestionWhen is it too late for support?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost likely never. Grief can stick around for a long time and sneak back up at any time after the healing process has begun. Support is almost always appreciated.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I support my friend who experienced a loss?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerListen to your friend, be there for her and allow her to talk freely about her loss with you.Thanks!
- Little things stick with people, and little things aren't too pushy, either.
- Remember that sometimes all a person needs is a friend.
- A good idea would be to stay by their side for a while, maybe stay at their home for a week. Leaving them alone would really hurt them and they would want someone to always be there with them.
- Do everything for them. Let them rest and do some shopping for them or cook them dinner. Babysit if they have kids and be just really respectful and caring to them.
- "Even a smile can be charity."
- Never push your friend into talking to you. Let them open up when they're ready.
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