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Somehow along the way of life, grief has been categorized as something that can cleanly be summed up in six stages. I bet you know them — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And while these stages may be accurate, grief is anything but clean or simple. In reality, grief is messy, confusing, every-lasting, and can slide into your emotional DMs any moment. Helping someone through this rollercoaster ride can be almost as confusing as the actual grief. So, if your friend is going through the trenches of mourning, here’s how you can actually make a meaningful difference.
1. Don’t try to fix it.
If your BFF has just experienced tragedy, I so get that your first response would be to jump into “We can fix it!” mode. The truth is, however, that this is not your grief and not your place to fix anything. Trying to push your friend to action with phrases like “You should try hot yoga!” or “My mom said going vegan ended her depression!” aren’t helpful. Your friend just simply needs you to be with her in this painful place. Think of it like when you’re complaining about how stressed you are about a test and a friend is like “Well, you should try my flash card technique next time.” You’re like, “Dude, I don’t need the input. I need a little compassion,” right? It’s the same for grief. Just show up with some compassion. Which leads us to….
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2. “This sucks. I’m sorry.” is healing magic.
It’s super tempting to use phrases like “Everything is going to be okay! I promise,” but in reality, to the person who’s grieving, they genuinely might not know that it will ever be okay. For me, losing my father as a pre-teen, never became okay and still isn’t. So instead, use the magic phrase: “This sucks. I’m sorry.” This lets your friend know you are there and are willing to be present in their pain, right there, exactly where she stands. That’s true friendship, soaking in the sh*t moments of life together.
3. Be in it for the long haul.
Your friend may be swarmed with initial “thinking of you” texts, messages, and flowers. This fades quickly. Show up when her tragedy initially happens, but be there when all the flowers and swarming fades. This is when the reality and loneliness of her situation will truly sink in, and that’s when you need to be there.
4. Remember dates.
If you’ve experienced a tragedy, the grief truly never ends. You will heal and move on, but moments of grief will forever be present. Remember this for your friend by taking note of dates that might be triggers for them in the future. Maybe your friend’s sister passed away; put her sister’s birthday and the anniversary of the tragedy in your calendar. This way, three years down the line, you can show up when your friend might be hurting but is too afraid to verbalize it because she fears “she should be over it” already.
5. Don’t be afraid to share your story.
Talking about your own experience with grief is not selfish. In fact, it’s the opposite as it can make your friend feel less alone and more understood. This goes back to #2; it’s sharing the burden of your friend’s pain. By letting her know you understand the hurt she’s feeling because you’ve been there before will help.
6. Let them cry.
How many times have you heard people say, “Don’t cry! It’s okay!” Don’t be the person that makes someone feel they need to shove their feelings back inside. Be the person your friend feels comfortable letting it all out with. Crying is part of the process and one step closer to healing.
7. Literally show up.
“Let me know if you need anything,” is another classic line that potentially hides an empty promise. Your friend most likely doesn’t want to burden you, so they won’t ask. How about this: “Are you free tonight? Can I come over? I have Mean Girls and your favorite ice cream.”
8. Ask them.
When all else fails and you feel like you might not be helping, ask them what you can do! I bet you’ll get great feedback on things you didn’t know where actually helping and maybe even get some guidance for the future.
9. Laughter is the best medicine.
Sure, this is most likely a serious moment in your friend’s life, but don’t be afraid to be yourself, and that means letting your sense of humor come through. If we don’t laugh in this crazy life, we’ll cry. So go ahead, make that stupid dad joke that’s on the tip of your tongue. Maybe even bust out a High School Musical move or two….
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