Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and even more difficult for their loved ones to understand what they are going through. Being a good friend to those who are bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on. (This is the big one — do not ever urge them to move on or tell them they need to get over their grief no matter how long it takes. Depending on the loss and the depth of their connection to the one who is gone, it can take years.)
If your bereaved friends cry, don’t tell them to stop. If they can’t cry, don’t urge them to try. If they want to talk, listen to them, but don’t urge them to talk about their grief if they don’t want to. Instead, ask about the person who died, what they were like, what was a favorite memory of them, which might be something bereaved will respond to. A lot of people hesitate to ask about the deceased loved one because they don’t want to make the griever sadder, but it’s nice to honor those who are gone by talking about them, and it’s even nicer to know that others haven’t forgotten the one who is gone.
If your bereaved friends don’t answer your questions, don’t push. If they pushes you away, don’t feel hurt or push back. Hug them if they will let you. When you are together, act normal. Don’t try to “feel their pain.” You can’t, and they will feel burdened by your empathy. Mostly, just be there for them.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.