I hope you read this and think, "Oh yes, this is helpful. I am not sure how to help take care of a friend who has lost a loved one." Because that hopefully, that means you haven't gone through a big loss yourself.
When my dad passed a few years ago, I realized how blessed I am in life to have so many good friends. This blog is my advice on how to be a good friend in their time of need, based on the amazing support I received.
Every person is different, each lost relationship requires different care - this is simply my two cents on what helped me grieve when my dad died. If you've been through a loss yourself, I'm curious whether you found the same things comforting.
Don't be Sorry
I still say "I'm sorry" when people tell me they've lost a loved one because, well, I am. Although your sentiment will be well received, it doesn't change much. When people said "that stinks" or "tough week" instead, I appreciated the commiseration. I never would've thought that was an appropriate thing to say to a grieving person. In my case, it made me feel comfortable to vent about how miserable I felt. Who knew I would feel that way? Not sure if this is how most people feel, though those words helped me out.
A lot of people showed up for my dad's viewing and funeral. Local friends, coworkers, extended family, college buddies from out of state. I received so many hugs, which made a big difference in my quickly-shifting perspective. When it feels like your world is spinning, it's a huge reassurance to have the people in your life show up to help keep you grounded.
If you can't be there...
...there are ways you can support a friend from a distance. After dealing with the gruelingly tedious details of the funeral arrangements, we returned to my parents' place to see a delivery man at the door with a massive spread of food that my friend had ordered. Not having to worry about figuring out dinner was a blessing. Food kept coming in from friends for awhile.
My aunt sent a remembrance plaque with a beautiful poem about how my dad is still with me. Every time I see it, I pause and think of him and can feel his presence.
My sister-in-law sent a stuffed animal with slap bracelet style arms and legs in lieu of a hug because she couldn't quite figure out how to mail me one. I loved the sentiment so much that it inspired me to create our Cuddle Buds package. Now, my son has commandeered this toy as his own, asking me to put it around his arm or leg from time to time. It's a nice way to keep spreading the love while remembering my dad in a unique way.
Ask, Ask, Ask
My husband was so good at this: asking me how I felt, what was going through my head. The news came as a shock to my system. We got the call when we were in between flights in Chicago, en route to see the in-laws for Christmas. I was sitting in an airport in a daze, starting to unlearn something I had known my whole life: my dad is alive. It was crushing and awkward. Strange thoughts were going through my head that I struggled to explain, but with my wonderful husband next to me, I was able to slowly put words to my confusing thoughts. Our fellow travelers probably wondered what in the world was wrong with me. Not that this detail mattered to me.
Before my dad died, I thought that if I asked someone about a loved one they'd lost, that it would make them sad. So I avoided asking. What I didn't realize that it's likely the foremost topic on their mind. By asking them about it, you're giving them an opportunity to have someone listen to them. Ask, then listen closely, because even though their loved one is no longer there, by listening, you're helping to bring their memories to life. I had lots of friends lend an ongoing ear. And that, in my opinion, is the best way you can help to take care of a grieving friend, by helping them to keep their loved one's memory alive.