My friend has suffered a bereavement. How can I help?
If a close friend has suffered a bereavement, what you can offer is “permission to grieve” – allowing them to feel whatever emotion comes up. In addition to this, you can offer an acceptance that it will take time for them to heal, and it’s not something he or she will “get over it” but will learn to live with.
“Being there” for your friend is about showing your genuine care and concern, rather than hurrying them through their grief or trying to cheer them up. You can offer them a listening ear, give them a hug if they want it, and allow them to cry if they need to. Being yourself is really important too, and if you’re not sure what your friend needs, don’t be afraid to ask – this is more helpful than making assumptions.
You can arrange times to call or visit (when it’s convenient for you both) so that your friend can talk about their loss. If your friend feels as though they have no-one else to talk to, encourage them to write in a private journal. You can also offer the idea of attending a support group or social group, yet bear in mind that the decision to do this is theirs.
Some tips for being there:
- Allow your friend to express as much unhappiness as they are willing to share, rather than cheer them up, or point out things you feel they should be positive about or grateful for.
- Allow your friend to talk about the relationship they had with the person that has died, whether this is seemingly “good” or “bad”.
- Remember that listening is not telling them what they should feel or do.
- Be patient with your friend and encourage them to be patient with themselves.
- Encourage them to keep up their food intake, to rest and sleep.
- Encourage them to take one positive step each week – this could be an activity they enjoy, meeting someone for coffee, a day out, some form of pampering.
Remember to nurture yourself
It is important to care for you, and you can go to your friends or a support group as a source of support and redirection. Remember to take time to do something for yourself – something creative which makes you feel good and recharges your batteries. Remember to laugh and play.
It’s helpful to remind yourself that you are enabling someone to stand on their own two feet. When you feel helpless, admit it, yet remember that “being there” is often more important than “doing”.
If there are times when you cannot be available to your friend, be open and say so. We all go through our own “life stuff”, and if are not able to be there right now, suggest you could in the future or suggest someone else.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to encourage your friend to visit the GP and seek out counselling, and particularly if there is a threat of suicide, severe depression, uncontrollable grief, anger or guilt, or no grief at all.
Remember that your friendship will return to more casual interactions, where you’ll get together for fun, laughs and mutual support.
Related articles from our experts
- Understanding ambivalence in loss and grief
Joshua Miles MBACP (Accred) Integrative Psychotherapist & Bereavement Counsellor13th July, 2017
- Can grief help us to live our lives more fully?
Lucas Teague PGDip; MBACP (Reg) UKCP registered Psychotherapist28th June, 2017
- Loneliness - why do we need to connect with others?
Sarah May Thorpe BSC MBACP24th June, 2017
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