It seems like an important time to share this again. Grief is disorienting and lonely. You can make a difference.
Note: *for health and safety reasons, during the pandemic, you may need to be creative in the ways you reach out.
- Show up. Go to her house for a hug and show of support. Make visits brief, and look for cues as to whether it’s time to leave. If you see a tangible need, whether it’s for a jumbo pack of toilet paper or a dress for her daughter for the funeral, take care of it. I’ll never forget my friend Robin taking my broken glasses out of my hand and getting me a new pair to wear to my mother’s funeral. Go to the funeral, whether in person or virtually. You may feel like just a face in the crowd, but your presence is important. Then, mark your calendar for a few days or a week afterward to show up in a different way, such as stopping by with a latte and a hug. Do it again. Your friend will likely need you to initiate for a while, but if you remind yourself to “Just Show Up” physically and emotionally, you will help her heal.
- Memorialize and honor. Honor your friend’s loved one by attending events such as a vigil and any charity events held in his or her name. If you knew the loved one, write down your memories and give it to your friend. But it’s okay if you didn’t know the loved one—you are here to support your friend. You belong! Yours could be the face she needs to see. As you support your friend in her grief, you will get to know more about her loved one, and that will help guide you in other ways to reach out such as donating to charity, planting a tree, giving a book to a library, or through a small gift. A special piece of jewelry, a book, a candle, a photograph of her loved one, or even a cozy robe in her loved one’s favorite color help your friend feel closer to her loved one, even as their tangible connection feels like it is slipping away.
- Listen. Your quiet presence or silent hug means more to your friend than any grand gesture or the "perfect" words. Showing up for a friend is scary because we are terrified of saying the wrong thing. That’s okay. Words are next to useless at a time like this, so give yourself a break. A simple “I’m so sorry” or "I love you" and your presence are priceless. Your intention is pure, and your friend will be able to sense that. “Do you want to tell me what these past few days have been like?” might be a way to give her permission to open up if she wants to. But silence is okay, too. If you feel the words "At Least" moving from your brain to your mouth, force yourself to be silent.
- Remember: Remember the birthday of the deceased, and the anniversary or the time of year of his or her death. Call, text, or send a card. “I’m thinking of you today as you miss your mom.” Or, make a note to reach out on important holidays such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or other holidays that would be particularly meaningful to your friend. This could be the first day of school, or the opening day of baseball season. Don’t worry that you will be reminding your friend of her loss on those days. She is already thinking about it, and your quick card, email, or text will let her know you are too. Find a way to bring up the loved one’s name in conversation. The more you do it, the easier it gets, “I watched the Yankees play last week and thought of Jack.” “Your mom really loved summer, didn’t she?” This helps your friend know that even though time has passed, you still remember that her life has changed.
- Don’t give up: Your friendship may feel one sided for a while. You may be tempted to back off, give your friend space, or let your friend reach out to you once she knows what she needs. You may even feel a bit let down that she seems to be relating to others more than you these days. Perhaps she has formed bonds with others who have experienced a similar loss and you are wondering what this means for your friendship. The key is to keep letting your friend know you care. Let go of expectations of how/if she will respond. Grief is extremely isolating and lonely, and if you can stave off some of that by being consistently present even if that is through texts, and (unreturned) phone messages. Yes, your friend has changed due to her experience, but she still loves and needs you. And if you are willing to walk beside her in her grief, you both will be richer for it.
Memorialize and Honor.
Don’t Give Up.