How to Help a Grieving Friend

I am 24 and in the past 6 years I’ve had 7 loved ones pass away, been to  5 funerals, and cried more tears than I have in my whole lifetime.  This Tuesday I am going to my grandma’s funeral, my 6th funeral in 6 years.

Today I was talking to my mom about Grandma and realized the difference between offering to be there for a grieving friend and actually being there.

I see my mom’s friends not just offering to be a listening ear but they actually make a phone call.  I see them delivering food rather than just offering to help.  Instead of simply offering condolences via Facebook they are bringing her flowers.

I know is most people younger than 25-years-old haven’t experienced the death of a loved one so how could they possibly know how to comfort someone who is grieving?  This post is for anyone who wants to know how to be an AMAZING friend to someone in mourning.

  1. Make a phone call.  Facebook condolences are fantastic but there is very little effort in doing that.  It means the world to be cared for enough to have a friend reach out personally.
  2. Send a handwritten letter.  I have always been a big advocate for handwritten letters.  I know there is something so special about them in this age of emails, texts, and junk mail.  I especially learned the value of this when I stared sending my late grandma postcards and writing her letters.  She looked forward to my letters and loved them so much that she would bring every one of them with her every time she was going to see my mom to show off the latest card she received.
  3. Ask to meet up.  A friend that reaches out with a note or a phone call is a wonderful friend.  But there is nothing like having someone come over to your house and hug you, cry with you, and let you talk about the memory of the one you lost.  With an empty house, all I wanted the day I found out about my grandma dying was for someone to come over to my house and hold me.
  4. Be a good listener.  Sometimes your friend will want to talk about what they are feeling, what their loved one was like, and what they are experiencing.  All you have to do is listen.  If they start crying hold them and get them tissue.  Don’t be afraid to allow for space and silence so they can keep dwelling on what their feeling unless they change the subject.
  5. Send some flowers to your friends house.  My mom has received flowers from friends, in-laws, and even a business colleague she hasn’t met face-to-face yet.
  6. Send some flowers to the funeral.  It was so meaningful seeing so many floral and plant gifts at my grandpa’s funeral.
  7. Send a gift.  You could drop off some brownies, send a teddy bear, bring them a latte or a bottle of wine, have a locket made with their loved one’s picture in it… anything thoughtful really.  Your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive, in this case it really is the thought that counts.  With my grandpa’s passing I got to be here to witness Pam bring our family communion, Karen gave my mom a handmade necklace with my grandpa’s picture superimposed, several bouquets of flowers arrived at their doorstep, Amy gave my mom a penny with a heart cut out of the middle, Steve and Jenny gave us an eternal lantern, Leanne and Bev gave wind chimes with a beautiful inscription (“Walter ‘Bud’ Hammond 1931-2011 His charming ways and smiling face are a pleasure to recall.  He had a kindly word for each and died beloved by all.”)
  8. Give them a gift card to a restaurant or something fun.  It’s a crazy time and sometimes it’s simply the best to get away from it all for a little while and enjoy a free meal out or to take in a movie.
  9. Bring them a meal.  Often times with grieving the structure of a human mind is a complete fog and all apetite goes away.  Without the desire to eat no food is made and with a mind so foggy the mind is mostly incompetent to cooking anything anyway.
  10. Attend the funeral.  If someone close to you lost a loved one perhaps one of the biggest gifts you can give is honoring your friend and their loved one’s memory by attending the funeral   Last year at my grandpa’s funeral most of my dad’s side of the family, all of my mom’s best college girlfriends, and my cousin’s best friend came to the funeral.  I remember feeling so taken care of and surrounded by love because of this simple act of solidarity.
  11. Give money to the cause presented in the obituary.  Usually this cause has something to do with the way the loved one died.
  12. Offer to clean their house.  In this season there are a lot of visitors coming in and out of the house and/or lots of arrangements being made so household cleaning falls by the wayside.
  13. Deliver groceries.  Similarly to household cleaning, common tasks like taking the trash out and going grocery shopping don’t happen.  Taking care of menial tasks allows the family some more time and space to either take care of funeral arrangements, grieve, and readjust to a new sort of life.
  14. Say “I’m so sorry.”  So many people don’t know what to say.  I know it’s uncomfortable but all you really need to say is “I’m so sorry” and give them a big, wrap-your-arms-around-and-squeeze hug.  If they cry, hold them firmly until they stop.  If you have more time with them or want to say more simply ask questions about the lost loved one.  What were they like?  What are some of your favorite memories with your grandma?  Please don’t ask “Oh, were you close?”  I’ve found that whenever I’m asked that I feel like
  15. “I’d like to help lighten your load, what can I do?”  “What can I do to help?” is also worlds different than “let me know how I can help.”  The former ilicits a response and the latter is more generic and unreachable.  The latter is the kind of thing everyone says, sometimes hoping the person they say it to never actually asks for help.  I’ve had so many kind offers from friends that sound something like, “let me know how I can help.” It’s a very sweet offer but I find I don’t feel I can actually take friends up on a statement like that.  I still feel like I would be a burden or a nuisance or an annoyance to actually ask for help.
  16. Help bear the burden of the bad news.  My mom has been the chief of all news and, thus, her phone doesn’t stop ringing.  A great way to help your friend through their difficult time would be to personally help make phone calls to pass along the news and give the funeral/memorial service information.  You can even start a calling tree and rally some more friends to help make the calls to lessen the burden of the bereaved.
  17. Give money.  Sometimes families are left with outrageous funeral expenses or medical bills and will go into debt without help.  By giving the gift of money directly to the family you are enabling them to stay afloat and are helping relieve another stressor.

On a final note, the best words spoken to me in my time of grieving my grandpa were right before his funeral.  All the family was gathered in the foyer when my father-in-law, George Calhoun, told us all something like “let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.”  The idea behind that statement is that everyone grieves differently and it’s too easy to feel like you have to be crying all day every day and, heaven forbid, you laugh at all.

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