If you clicked on this blog post it is probably because you know someone who is actively grieving. Watching someone else go through a grieving process can sometimes feel almost as hard as when we go through it ourselves.
Picture this- a friend shares their news with us, we freeze- say something like, "I am so sorry", and don't really know what to say next. This is a natural reaction when we hear bad news! Even if we know something is coming, there is not enough words in life to describe the moment of shock when a loss becomes a reality. In this moment we are processing and trying to show support for our loved one, all at once. This can feel very daunting to say the "right thing".
What is the right thing to say?
I mean, is there ever a right thing to say when someone shares something like- my parent died, my partner is leaving me, my pet is missing, whatever they might be sharing- bad news is tough to talk about openly. Generally, in life, we try to keep a "status quo" of how we interact with other people in order to keep a level of social comfort. When bad news gets thrown in the mix, I think our brain goes: "How do I show my support while I am also in shock?"
If you are in this moment and are not sure what to say, or how to express your thoughts it is okay to start with, "wow, this is a lot to take in, I need a second to let that sink in." Sharing how impactful this news is with them is a moment of vulnerability, which can be validating to their own experience as well. A phrase like this also gives you the space to reflect on what you truly want to say to your friend.
Photo by Kulli Kittus
Another instinctual thing to say, "is there anything I can do to help?" This question is so helpful but also can seem daunting if your friend is still in shock. Adding an example to your offer of support may help it feel less daunting to them. For example, if I said, "this is devastating. If there is something I can do to help you right now- like come clean up, bring you dinner, take you out somewhere, I'll check in later today and see if you can leave the house for a little while."
By inviting them rather than putting pressure for them to decide in that moment I am providing less stressful support. Sometimes when we go into "help mode" and throw things at our friend like, "ok do you want to talk more? what about a walk? you know- I know a great grief therapist." These rolling comments can be a lot for someone who just verbally shared a very sensitive and impactful moment with you.
Lead with Genuineness
If you are feeling sad yourself, that is okay. Sad news is sad. There is no way around it. Validating your friends feelings and normalizing their shock, pain, anger, sadness, dissociation is a good start.
When we lead with genuine concern and care the person we are supporting is more likely to feel comforted. It can be hard to navigate talking about painful topics, and that's natural.
Possible ways to support a friend without overwhelming them:
1. Set a date where you check in
2. Have a code word to navigate if they are feeling up to talking about their grief or prefer not to that day
3. Use your intuition, what are some things they find comforting?
4. Find times to help them be in the "here and now" to break up the stress, distress, and heaviness of grief.
If you are looking for a helpful resources we have listed a few here:
Grief Share website with groups for people grieving.
Grief.com also has helpful resources for friends, families, and people grieving.
Grief F*cking Sucks is a helpful prompted journal to share with a loved one who is processing grief. (Teen+ for language)
The Invisible String a children's book for navigating loss.
There are so many other forms of grief support online and in person. You can always search for therapists, groups, services and educational classes in your local community for more information.
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Please note: Koger Counseling is not a crisis service provider. If you are concerned for a friend might be in crisis after a loss call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Hotline: 1-800-273-8255Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via phone and online chat.