Q&A: Helping a bereaved friendWritten by Focus on the Family
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Question: A dear friend of ours recently lost her spouse. We’d like to be available to support and comfort her in any way we can during this time of grief. Do you have any helpful suggestions?
Yes. After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have all been packed away, what grieving people need most are friends. Faithful friends who are available and willing to be on hand when they’re needed but sensitive enough to step away when the bereaved person simply wants to be alone. Discerning friends who know the limitations of words. Wise friends who understand that their silent presence is often all that’s wanted.
Let her talk
The first thing you can do for your friend is allow her to talk. At those moments when she’s ready to give vent to her feelings, your role is to be a good listener. If you want to inject something, it’s enough to say that you care and that you’re sorry. Explanations seldom console and advice is rarely helpful.
During these sessions, try to stay aware of your friend’s deeper emotions. Bear in mind that she may be angry as well as sad and that you need to give her time and space to acknowledge, express, and deal with these feelings. If it seems appropriate, don’t be afraid to encourage a good cry. And be patient – grief is a deep and complicated process and mourning can take a long time to work itself out. As you have opportunity, urge her to take care of herself by making sure that she gets enough exercise, rest, prayer, and recreation.
Be practical with your help
On the practical end of the spectrum, you can make yourself available to help with daily chores and necessities, such as yard work, housework, or washing the car. If you’re running an errand, call and ask your friend if there’s anything you can pick up for her while you’re out. If she has children, offer to baby-sit and go out of your way to give them special attention. Remember that they’re grieving too. Suggest that they write down what they’re feeling or express it in a drawing, and then spend some time discussing the results with them.
Above all, don’t avoid your friend. Take steps to insure that you can be there for her when she needs you. Write notes to her during especially difficult times, such as holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. You’ll find that a phone call or an invitation to lunch after church will make her day.
Watch for unhealthy grief
In the midst of all this, keep a watchful eye on your friend and make sure that she’s working through her grief in a healthy way. Watch for negative warning signs like excessive sleeping or drug and alcohol abuse. If you think she needs grief counselling, don’t hesitate to suggest it. Focus on the Family Canada counselling staff is here for you and your friend to discuss your questions over the phone. Feel free to call us Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.
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