If you are lucky, you may get pretty far into life before you experience a truly devastating loss. But sooner or later, someone you care about will take an intense blow, and part of adulting is to comfort and support them during their heartbreak.
It’s intimidating. Especially for people who have anxiety when they can’t fix things. (*raises hand*) Because grief can’t be fixed. It just has to be dealt with, and everyone is different in how they do that.
But just because you can’t actually fix your friend doesn’t mean you can’t help. Here are some tips, from someone who just threw another suitcase on the emotional baggage train, how to comfort a grieving friend.
7 Ways To Comfort A Grieving Friend
1. Pay attention to the cues, non-verbal and verbal from your friend. Some people don’t want to talk about their feelings.
2. Ask an open ended question like “What happened?” which invites them to talk as much or as little as they want. And then shut up. Emotions may be all over the place for a grieving individual, and simply by listening you may help them articulate what they’re feeling, or validate feelings they might feel are crazy or “wrong.”
3. Do not say “I know how you feel.” Because you don’t. Also, there’s a subtle (or not so subtle) connotation of “you’re not special.” A better choice would be, “I can’t imagine how heartbroken you must feel right now.”
4. Reflect back the feelings they’ve expressed. For example, if he or she says “I don’t understand why this is happening,” you might say, “Yes, it seems so unfair,” or, “You’re right, it doesn’t make any sense.” Note that those are both very different from “Life’s not fair,” with its unspoken corollary: “So suck it up and deal.”
5. Be empathetic. Listen with your emotions engaged. Take your cues from your friend, but if you feel like crying, cry. If something is amusing, laugh. Be genuine.
6. However… it’s not about you. When someone talks about their grief, it can pull at the scars of your own losses. That’s totally normal. Try, though, to focus on what your friend is feeling right now. You can go have a good cry of your own later. Or a pint of Häagen-Dazs. Whatever gets you through.
7. Remember that every person grieves differently. Studies show whether a person grieves outwardly or inwardly, loudly or quietly, doesn’t really have much bearing on how long the grief lasts or the probability of it transforming into depression. That said, if your friend really seems to be floundering and struggling to function day to day, suggest they talk with a support group, a religious advisor (if she’s religious, obviously), or a professional counsellor.
“Just listening” may sound lame and inadequate when someone you care about is in the midst of heartbreak. But think about how surface level most of our social interactions are—tweets and Instagram shares and Facebook likes. And it’s hard to just listen. Realize the best gift you can give your friend is a safe person to talk to without feeling judged, hurried, or dismissed.