Dear Annie: A close friend’s father died suddenly two months ago, and she’s been distant ever since. We’re relatively young, and this is my first experience having a close friend lose a parent. I’m not sure what to say to her. I hate seeing her in pain. I’ve tried to tell her that she’s strong, but she shrugs it off. What do you say to offer encouragement to someone who’s mourning?
Dear Tongue-Tied: The pressure’s off: There are no magic words you could say to take your friend’s pain away. When it comes to supporting someone who is grieving, it’s not about what you say but how you listen.
The following tips come courtesy of psychotherapist and grief advocate Megan Devine, author of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.”
“How to Help a Grieving Friend”
Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Your steadiness of presence is the absolute best thing you can give.
Don’t compare griefs. No one else has experienced their grief.
Do ask questions. You can connect by showing curiosity about their experience.
Don’t fact check or correct. Especially in early grief, facts and timeliness can be confused.
Do respect their experience. It’s not important who’s “more” correct.
Don’t minimize. Even if you might think their grief is out of proportion to the situation.
Do remember this grief is theirs. Grief belongs to the griever. Your opinions are irrelevant.
Don’t give compliments. When someone is in pain, they don’t need to be reminded how wonderful they are.
Do trust your friend. All the things you love about the person will help them through this experience.
Don’t be a cheerleader. When things are dark, it’s OK to be dark.
Do mirror their reality. When they say, “This sucks,” say, “Yes, it does.”
Don’t talk about “later.” Right now, in this present moment, that future is irrelevant.
Do stay in the present moment. Or if the person is talking about the past, join them there.
Don’t evangelize. When something has worked for you, it’s tempting to prescribe it for others.
Do trust their self-care. They know themselves best. What works for you may not be for them.
Don’t start with solutions. In most cases, people need to feel heard, not be “fixed.”
Do get consent before you offer advice or strategies.
Show up. Listen. Don’t Fix.
For more on helping a grieving loved one, visit https://www.refugeingrief.com.