Responding to a Friend in Grief

“What’s the right thing to say?” Trying to think of the “right” thing to say is often an attempt to take away some of the pain, to make things better. The fact is, you cannot take away the pain of a significant loss. What you may be able to do is relieve the person of some of the loneliness that often accompanies loss. Therefore, rather than looking for the “right” things to say, focus on simply maintaining your connection with that person, doing things that. remind the person that you are there, that you care. A mentor of mine once said that when responding to a person who has experienced a loss, “Don’t worry about saying the right thing. Bake them a pie.”

“Should I say anything about what’s happened?” Your response after a trauma should probably be based on your relationship with the person before the trauma. To be significantly more or less involved with that person may feel artificial or contrived for both of you. It is important that the person not feel either intruded upon or abandoned. It is probably important that you say something so that avoidance does not become the expected norm. However, it may be enough to convey, “I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m happy to see you back.”

“What do I do with my own feelings?” Tragedies in other people’s lives can trigger memories of past events or fear of potential events in our own lives. Avoid letting your fear of what might happen be the primary basis for you response to another. This often results in subtly looking to the person in grief to calm you. They have their own grief and fears; they don’t need to deal with your fears also. Find other co-workers, friends, spouse, partner, and/or counselors to help you with your feelings.

“When will life get back to normal?” It’s often the strong desire of those in grief and those supporting to get back to normal as soon as possible. However, it’s important to remember that while grief is not a disease, it does take time, energy, and attention to recover. The object of grief recovery is not to make the feelings go away, but to gradually reinvest energy back into daily living. For the person who has experienced the death of someone significant, life will eventually get back to normal on the outside, but it is important to remember that the loss will always be a part of them and life on the inside may never feel the same as it was before.