5 ways to support a friend through loss
This article looks at how we can support a friend or loved one through feelings of loss. Below are five ways to provide support:
5 ways to offer support
1. Explicitly acknowledge the loss
Whether due to the death of someone, a breakup, a redundancy, or loss of health, acknowledging the loss can make a huge difference. When we’re unsure how to respond, or we don’t want to upset someone, we might refrain from saying anything. Instead, our friend suffers silently alone. It’s better to stumble our way to show that we care, rather than not say anything at all. We don’t need to provide a solution. The help comes from simply being present, being witness to their pain, and offering to keep them company.
2. Share time together
Time is a great healer, but it slows down immensely when we’re in pain. Every minute, if not every second, can be occupied by a thought, a realisation of the new reality. To help distract them, suggest activities to do together. Things that require their full attention, such as hiking or cooking together, can offer them a reprieve from their thoughts. But even being with them in low-level activities, like watching a film, can help them feel cared for and connected when they least feel it. Answering ‘how are you’ can be difficult, so sharing an article or video that they might like can help them know that we hold them in our thoughts without any pressure to respond.
3. Help them with the practical
The strain of keeping emotions in check in order to function day-to-day can be particularly exhausting. Everyday tasks like going to the supermarket can become overwhelming. Dropping over a cooked meal can show our care without imposing on their space.
At the same time, focusing on practical things might be their way of coping right now. Rather than dealing with waves of sadness, they may come across matter-of-fact and cold, honing in on tangible things that they can manage. In their anger, they might risk being too harsh. For example, in trying to move forwards, they may go overboard with clearing out their past items. Gently suggest packing things away to review at a later date. What ways could they store items so they’re not visible, but can be accessed when they are ready to in the future.
4. Help them define their version of moving on
We can place intense pressure on ourselves to be okay. ‘Moving on’ might be the thought of not crying at all after three months has passed. It might be removing all physical reminders, or completely changing our identity and connected social circles. There is really no right way to grieve as we can never fully comprehend another person’s loss. We can, however, help them recognise any unnecessary pressure to move on quickly or through a certain way by external people, such as expectations by family, friends or work.
5. Acknowledge new losses as time goes by
Sometimes the first year of loss is more manageable as the events are more prominent in the minds of friends and family. As future anniversaries come by and related situations come up, the loss can feel more forgotten or taboo. Loved ones don’t want to risk hurting each other by bringing anything up, but acknowledging their ongoing loss can help them feel less alone. New relationships and new jobs can be tainted by the previous losses where we fear being hurt or disappointed again. Recognising this journey, the wanted and unwanted emotions and thoughts can help ease anxieties. Grief isn’t a linear journey. We find a way to cope in a moment of time. Later on, we might revisit the pain and find a new narrative.
If you or someone you know is experiencing loss, a counsellor can help. Talking to someone in confidence about feelings of loss and grief can provide important support and offer relief from difficult emotions.