From aging parents, grandparents, and relatives to freak accidents of other friends and family, sometimes our young adult years seem like they have almost as many funerals as weddings. Trying to comfort a friend who’s going through one of the hardest times in their life can make you feel powerless or even awkward trying to do or say the right thing. While it can be tempting to get some distance for fear of feeling speechless, pulling away when our friends need us most is rarely helpful. Oftentimes, the only thing worse than grief itself is grieving alone.
Here’s what to say when there are no words to make it right:
Initiate with an Act of Service
While it’s well intended, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” is one of the less helpful things to say for friends going through a tough time. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this platitude, you know how uncomfortable it would feel to actually take someone up on that offer, even if you knew they meant it sincerely. Still, when your mind is focused on grief, it can be tough to keep up with daily tasks like exercise and cleaning, or even to get out of the house for some fresh air or new surroundings. Acts of service can be extra helpful when people are struggling, regardless of their love language.
“Have you eaten lunch yet? I’m doing a Sweetgreen run, what’s your usual?”
“I keep putting off filing my taxes. Do you want to do them together later this week?”
“Do you want to take our dogs for a hike together? The weather looks clear tomorrow!”
“Have your kids gotten outside much recently? I can take them to the park for the afternoon if you’d like a break.”
“I’ve been meaning to get a pedicure, will you go with me? My treat.”
“I noticed your dishes have been sitting for a while. If it’s not too uncomfortable for you, I’m going to do them while we chat.”
“How are you on groceries? I’m heading to a farmer’s market today, do you want to come? If not, what’s your favorite fruit or veggie?”
“I’ve always wanted to try pilates, but I’m too embarrassed to go alone. Will you go to a class with me this weekend?”
“I know you said you were going to clean out your mom’s bedroom Saturday. Do you have family helping with that already? If not, I’m free all weekend.”
“Do you want to run errands together? I have to do some returns, and maybe a Starbucks run.”
It’s human nature to avoid the uncomfortable. Unfortunately, what’s uncomfortable for us can be things that grieving people want to talk about. Shying away from topics that seem sad is often just a reflex, but it’s an important one to push past if we want to help friends grieve. Talking through grief is only appropriate in certain circumstances, but if you get the feeling that they’re in the mood, consider asking questions that help them open up in positive ways rather than running from a short moment of discomfort.
“What was your grandma’s name?”
“How did your parents first meet?”
“What are your favorite childhood memories of your uncle?”
“What kind of music did your dad like? Do you have any of his old CDs?”
“Did you and your brother ever get in trouble together as little kids?”
“You look so much like your mom, did you ever dress up in her clothes as a little girl?”
“What books did you and your dad both like?”
“What was your boyfriend’s favorite movie? Did you ever do movie nights together?”
Words of Affirmation
One of the hardest parts about losing a loved one is feeling like there are conversations and relationships left unfinished. While no words will ever replace getting to see our loved one again, sometimes providing comfort takes the form of validating those relationships that were cut short.
“Your grandpa would have been so proud of you.”
“You could tell she loved you more than anything.”
At the end of the day, words don’t cure grief, they’re just one way we show our friends we’re here for them through the good and the bad. Sometimes being there for the people we love literally just means being there, giving her a hug, sitting in silence, watching a movie, doing her nails, and showing your friend that your presence isn’t contingent on her being happy and social.
Grief after losing a loved one is often the hardest part of someone’s life, and helping friends through that process can feel awkward at best. If you’re at a loss for words, focus on what you can do to help your friend both practically and emotionally. Most of all, being a good friend just means showing up.
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