Good Grief: What Should I Do For My Grieving Friend?
No matter how old we get or how many people we meet, the need to grieve seems to be an inevitable part of this thing we call life. When we see the ones we love in pain over those they’ve lost, we may feel the need to comfort them or lift their spirits. But how can we accomplish this? Sometimes our efforts to give them space seem feeble or our attempts to go out of our way appear overbearing. Where can we possibly find common ground? Unfortunately, this is no simple task. Everyone grieves in different ways, so we must keep ourselves open and accessible to their needs no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they may be.
Often times, we tend to turn our heads when the topic of grief and mourning comes up in conversation. No one likes to talk about death. So when tragedy strikes, we have no idea how to react. We don’t want to seem too pushy or intrusive or get too involved. There isn’t a rulebook or a set of guidelines to tell us how to mourn or exactly how to love on others when they’re mourning. Does loving on others mean being by their side 24/7 or giving them space to breathe? We want to be as helpful and generous to our friends as possible, especially when they are in pain.
When I was a child, my grandmother – with whom I was very close – passed away due to mistreatment at a nursing home. Following her death, my family and I were full of frustration and guilt, wondering what we could have done to prevent something so horrible. After her funeral, we received a number of sympathy cards and several dishes of comfort food, and even though we thanked them all dearly, we never felt fully supported or understood.
I myself am one of those people who will keep everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – bottled up inside unless someone goes out of their way to ask me what is wrong. Even then, I may not respond. My closest friends and family members know how to pry me open and force me to release my angst and emotions. But once it’s all out, I feel renewed and relieved. In my case, I need that certain someone who is willing to deal with my craziness. But mostly, I am just grateful that I’ve found people in my life who have the patience to deal with my spontaneous hysterics.
We see people all around us in need of the same love and attention. Hannah Burger, a student at Greenville College, recently faced the pain of losing her father while in school. Many of us see losing a parent as unfathomable, yet we see people like Hannah walking around campus with nothing less than a smile on her face. She was gracious enough to share some of her experience and her beliefs on how grief should be handled.
“I can’t speak for anyone other than myself when it comes to how to respond to someone in bereavement. When I needed time with my friends, I told them, and I told them what I needed from them. I think it is a big part of the friend’s job in helping someone who is grieving to know how their grieving friend acts in response to regular stress. My friends understood when I was sad and it only took a hug from them to cheer me up. Being available was the best thing my friends could do for me.”
It is the people we love who keep us grounded. Even in the safety, security, and joy of our own campus, grief is no stranger. We all have experienced that gaping hole within our hearts, left by the loss of those we love and cherish. The students and faculty of Greenville College have lost parents, siblings, grandparents, and life-long friends.
When you know someone who is grieving, you feel the need to comfort them. However, there is no standard textbook procedure for grief or comfort that applies to everyone. Everyone grieves and likes to be comforted differently, and this is important to keep in mind. Instead of approaching your grieving friend in a generic way, think about how your friend handles tough situations on a daily basis. Think of how they like to give and receive love. Dealing with a friend facing loss is a difficult and sometimes awkward situation. All we can do is personalize our love and attention to the needs of our friends. We want to give others the same love and respect that we would want to receive in a time of loss. It’s important that we not limit our role as loving friends or undermine the power of fellowship and kindness.