The Best (And Worst) Responses to a Grieving Friend
“Let me know if you need anything”
“I know what you’re going through”
“It’ll get better”
If you have a friend who has lost a loved one or who is going through a bad break up (yes, grieving is normal for ended relationships) and these are the comments you’re offering in an effort to comfort them, then I have some bad news for you: you’re doing it wrong buddy. Even worse, you’re probably making them feel more awful than they felt before.
Before we get into why these kinds of comments aren’t helpful or comforting, let’s first define grief.
The definition of grief according to Addiction Hope is “a multi-faceted and normal response to loss and can vary based on individual experiences and the nature of the loss. Grief is more than just an emotional reaction; it entails physical, behavioral, and cognitive responses as well.”
What triggers grief?
- Death of a loved one
- Job loss
- The end of a relationship
- Bad health
So, now that we know what grief is and what can cause is, why are comments like “It’ll get better” unhelpful?
Because they’re generic and offer no real support.
When you’re faced with a friend who needs help, try these 5 comforting ways to support instead.
1. Avoid telling them how to feel or how strong they are
Telling someone that they are so strong puts them in a place of fear of really dealing with their feelings. They won’t want to cry or get angry because they’re worried they must be strong.
But, anger and sadness are normal symptoms of grief; so let them feel what they feel.
Jups2709 from Reddit explains it best in a thread dedicated to what to say to grieving friends:
2. Know that sometimes your presence and your attention is all that matters
You don’t have to stop a grieving person’s tears or outbursts, and you don’t have to be the person who is constantly talking to calm them.
Sometimes your presence and attention is enough to comfort someone. It shows that you’re there through the best of times and worst of times.
Ask for stories (assuming the grief is from death) about the person who’s passed. Don’t be afraid to say the deceased person’s name either, which most people tend to do.
Ask your friend to tell you a funny story, or just let them vent. This time isn’t about you; it’s about your friend.
3. Take action
Chances are if you tell your friend to call you if they need anything, they’re not going to call.
Take the initiative to help your friend out with the small day-to-day stuff that’s nearly impossible to do when you’re grieving.
There’s a reason why taking over a casserole to a grieving person is so common – food and cooking is the last thing on a person’s mind when dealing with the stress and pain of loss.
Cook up a week’s worth of food and stock their fridge.
4. Don’t try to fix anything
All too often when we see our friends hurting, we want to fix their problems.
Grief, however, is something that’s very personal and shouldn’t be diminished.
Avoid statements like “Well, we all go through this at sometime,” “Time heals all,” and “Things will work out for the best. You’ll see.”
In that moment of grief, your friend needs you to understand that his/her grief can’t be fixed by these (often hurtful) remarks.
5. If you’re worried, recommend professional help
Although a friend who is grieving might be going through normal symptoms such as anger, loss of appetite, panic attacks, or headaches, it can become so severe that you might be worried your friend is having grief management problems (i.e. they can’t handle the pain and stress it’s causing). Find a full list of emotional and physical grieving symptoms here.
Symptom that might be an invocator of a grief management problem might include:
- Weight loss
- Drug or alcohol use
There really is so much a friend or family member can do, and it’s ok if you can’t take it all on by yourself.
Gently suggesting professional help isn’t easy, but there ways to make the talk a bit smoother.
Research a few counselors in the area and compile a list so that your friend doesn’t have to do that. Be honest during your talk and explain how much you love them and how much it hurts to see them hurt.
Hopefully with time, patience, and understanding, you can help your friend go through the stages of grieving in a kind and loving way.