How To Support a Grieving Friend

Support A Grieving Friend

For 11 years of my life I have been everyone else’s grieving friend. I’ve been known as the ‘friend who lost her mum’, ‘the friend who is going through grief’ and ‘the friend whose mum had cancer’. Until recently, I only ever experienced the impact of grief within my own personal bubble. While I continuously witness my father and sister grieve for my mother, this same loss is mimicked in all of us. It has only been in the last few months that I first experienced grief from the outside – by watching someone I love go through the process of losing someone they love. I have spent the last 11 years grieving for my mother but have only recently understood what is truly means to support a grieving friend. 

Just under two months ago, one of my best friends rang me in hysterical disbelief, after hearing the horrifying news of her friend’s sudden death. She came to me to seek solace from someone who she knew had experienced the extreme pain and suffering that was uncontrollably pulsating through her. My first reaction was silent tears; the only way I could express how truly tragic the situation was. My second reaction, was to make a conscious effort never to make this about me. This wasn’t my grief to experience; this wasn’t my pain. 

That got me thinking about when, aged 20, I first broke the news of my mum’s death to my best friends, and the whirlwind of emotions that they must have felt, but had to immediately put on hold. I had a multitude of different reactions from friends, some of them nourishing and supportive and others emotional and self-centred. At the time I had unrealistic expectations of what the people closest to me could offer me and idealistic notions of how they would be able to unburden me of my pain.
The truth of the matter is that supporting someone through grief is unlike anything else. No matter how much time you give and how much support you offer, you will always end up feeling helpless and there will be always more that you wish you could do. There is no room for advice. There is no space for distractions. There is no magical solution. 

The important thing to remember with grief is that everyone experiences it in different ways. Therefore, there is no blueprint to supporting a friend through grief. What you can do, however, is:

  • Give them the time and space to pour out their feelings and slowly unburden themselves. 
  • Approach them with support. Don’t wait for them to come looking for support. 
  • Learn their individual needs. 

Listen. Look out for. Learn. 

It is only now when watching my best friend grieve that I truly understand how hard it must have been for those around me after I lost my mum. No one wants to see someone they love suffer, especially when they find themselves unable to relate to and comprehend what that person is going through. Sadly, our society provides limited support in this respect. While there is a multitude of advice on how to support a friend going through a break up or losing their job, there is very little information out there on how to comfort a grieving friend.

Here at YNN, we want to educate others and raise awareness about young adult bereavement, so that people like us do not feel let down by friends and family and are given the support they need from those closest to them. 

Let’s finish with a few blanket no-no’s…

  • Burst out crying and expect your grieving friend to comfort you. 
  • Suggest taking them out for ‘night out’ so they can get sh*tfaced and forget about their pain (unless of course they want to…)
  • Tell them that everything happens for a reason and that this experience will only make them stronger. 
  • Tell them about a time you lost your rabbit/cat/goldfish and how you understand what it means to lose someone you love. 
  • Tell them how strong they are and how if you were in their situation you would just break down and not be able to go on. 
  • Tell them that you will always be there for them but then never call. 
  • Get drunk and tell them how you wish you could have been there for them but then never call. 
  • Compare their grief to someone else’s. 
  • Tell them that it will only get better with time. 
  • Tell them that their mum/dad/sibling/partner/best friend wouldn’t want them to be sad. 
  • Tell them that their mum/dad/sibling/partner/best friend is looking down on them (especially if they don’t believe there is an after life…)

Meera Elbay 

Founder, YNN




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