Grief: support for grieving friends

This morning on Twitter, someone that I followed posted a very touching group of tweets about losing his wife recently. I actually teared up a little as I read the beautiful words and it made me think of my mum who I lost six years ago.

I think the hardest part about being friends with someone who is grieving – is not knowing what to say to them – or how to be there for him.

I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the years when chatting with others about grief. This was my main reason for starting this blog and grief does surface from time to time when you least expect it to. Even years after losing a loved one.

Sometimes it can seem that no matter what you say to a grieving friend, it might be the wrong thing. Here’s a flash back to a conversation I had years ago with someone and it stuck with me.

“I’m sorry, I know what you’re going through. It’s hard to lose someone close to you,” I said.

“No you don’t,” the person said, her voice full of anger. “How could you possibly know what I’m going through?”

I backed away from the conversation knowing that no matter what I said it would be the wrong thing. And so, over the years, I got better with my words – and more careful.

“I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad was such an amazing man and we had many fond memories. Please know we are thinking of you.”

I used this comment when a friend’s dad died two years ago. My family attended the funeral which was more like an Irish wake. We drank a lot, shared memories of Harry, and sang old Irish drinking songs. We were just there for each other.

“I’m grieving today along with you and your family. Tolve was a dear friend for many years. We enjoyed Sunday morning coffee chats at the church. She became a part of my extended family. I will miss her. My thoughts are with you.”

The kind of message you send will depend on how well you knew the family or the deceased. Working at the church, I met many great seniors who would become like family to me. I cried when I learned of Tolve’s death. We would chat and giggle like old friends over our Sunday morning coffee. And then she was just gone. That was one of the first deaths I had experienced at the church and it hit me hard.

“I’m so sorry I can’t be there for the funeral with the family. Know that I am thinking of you all. While I didn’t know Rita very well, my dad told us stories of her and he loved her so much. Please take care of yourselves. Sending thoughts and much love, from Canada.”

This was a message that I sent to my family in Denmark when my great-aunt Rita passed away from cancer about ten years ago. I didn’t know my family very well and it was hard to be there for them when I was in Canada and they were so far away. But Rita’s death – resulted in me connecting with my cousin Else and we have been Facebook friends ever since. We chat on special occassions.

When Else lost her husband last year to cancer, it’s such a killer in my family, I reached out to her again and sent my love and “virtual” hugs. Sometimes it’s just hard being away from family – especially a whole ocean or two away. Thank goodness we have social media and Skype calls to connect now.

When it came to losing my own mother in 2014, it hit me hard. I was angry for a long time. I was confused and hurt. It wasn’t until about 2017, when I started writing about her death that I finally started healing from her loss.

But as I said in my response this morning – I don’t think you really ever get over losing a loved one. Love like a mother-daughter bond is one that lasts a lifetime. When you lose someone you are close to, it can feel a little like you have lots a part of yourself.

And so today, on Father’s Day, I find myself quite sad that I can’t see my own father and that I’m missing mum terribly.

This got me thinking. What can you do for friends or family members who are struggling and grieving for a loved one?

Just be there for them. Cook them dinner. Call them on the phone. Send them flowers.

Don’t offer them grief counseling. Don’t say “I know what you are going through” – as I learned, that’s the worst thing you can say to someone.

Just be there for them. And let them know that when they’re ready, you will be there – to listen to them, to hold them and mostly just – to acknowledge their pain.

I’m going to leave you with this song. It’s one that I want played at my funeral when it’s my time. If you can’t find the words to say to someone in need of comfort, sometimes – music can say those words for you.

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