Grieving is at once an incredibly personal experience and a universally human one. Many people find it isolating, finding themselves outside of time somehow—the whole rest of the world continuing to move forward while they remain frozen in a standstill. Additionally there can often be a felt pressure to 'get on with it' after a brief period and rejoin that forward stream like nothing has happened, even though you might still be reeling from loss.
And so, a community is needed, one that understands and is working to change our culture of “denial, impatience and intolerance of grieving.
The truth is, nobody knows what to say when someone dies. Show up anyway.
Be that friend.
While there are of course no “rules” and what works for one griver might not suit the next, there are a few considerations we’ve found to be particularly helpful and relevant when supporting a friend through the death of a loved one. Mostly, it’s because we’ve been there, we’ve been the ones people are supporting and we’ve lived through the things that aren’t that helpful (we’ve also been the friend trying to offer support), so we compiled a list of things that might be helpful. As with anything, it’s a guide.
In the early days of grief it can sometimes feel like you’re drowning, like your world has been completely split in two and like everything has changed. If you find yourself here or your friend is in this place, our hearts ache for you.
“Others have come before you, but that doesn't really matter now.”
What matters is that the sky is wrong, and this life is wrong, and you need someone to see it, to acknowledge it. To say—this is f*cked up sh*t that just happened here.”
There’s not much to say that will bring comfort. There’s not anything to do, or fix, and the more quickly you realize this, the better and more meaningful support one will be able to provide.
Grief is a long and winding road and it looks different for everyone.
Pull up a chair, you might be here awhile.
And, if you’ve been here before you know there are definitely no concrete steps your grief will follow, you know platitudes won’t bring comfort, and you definitely don’t want to hear someone tell you “everything happens for a reason.”
Instead, what might be most helpful is a friend sitting quietly beside you, not expecting anything of you, not looking to you for direction or guidance, and definitely not asking you questions you can’t answer.
When someone says ‘let me know if there’s anything you need or reach out any time,’ and you’re not even sure what you need, it can feel like an empty offer, like a void you can’t see through or around, like something you don’t know what to do with.
We don’t like to tell people what they should and shouldn't do, and when it comes to supporting a friend when a loved ones dies we have a few ideas to consider:
Name names, say the deceased person’s name
Rather than asking “How are you?,” consider another way to check-in without leading with that. Asking “how are you feeling today,” is a more helpful and supportive question
Let the person know you’re there to listen, you’re not trying to “fix” them or “solve” anything, you’re simply there to be with them
Everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time
Offer to help in practical ways (keep reading)
Maintain your support (after the death, funeral etc.)
Continue support over the long haul (we’re good in the beginning stages of grief, ok in the middle and really quite terrible over a long period of time)
Grief is horribly lonely and if it’s not enough to lose someone you love, so often you also end up grieving a million other things, like the loss of friendships.Be the friend who stands in the fire with the people you love. Who sits in the pain, even when it’s completely unbearable. Who is there in the beginning, the middle and especially for the long haul.
Whether you’re arranging for yourself or someone else, your peace of mind is our priority.
As humans we want to fix, to solve, to do. And in grief these feelings seem to be on overdrive. While most of supporting a grieving friend isn’t about doing, there are a few “doing” things that are in fact helpful. From our experience (we wish we didn’t know, because that would mean we haven’t lost, we haven’t been here before, but we have and we know) the best things to do are:
One of the best gifts we can offer someone who is suffering is our presence
Online resources to gather their support community:
Watch for signs of complicated grief and this really falls best under the care of a professional
You’ve reached out a bunch of times and the person hasn’t responded and/or is unable to engage fully or at all. It seems like nothing you’re doing is appreciated or acknowledged or even that supportive. We know it’s painful and confusing and hard. It feels personal. We can tell you with near certainty it (usually) isn’t.
Reach out again.
It can feel like nothing you’re doing is helping. In many ways it’s true and it’s also ok.
Because nothing anyone can say or do will actually take away the pain or bring back the person who has died. For this reason (and many others) it can be difficult to console a friend who is grieving and it can even feel futile. It’s wildly uncomfortable and desperately lonely for both the griever and sometimes even the person who is grief adjacent (you might miss your friend, miss their support or miss laughing with them).
When we understand and accept that grief is a gradual (often painstakingly “slow”) process, that it takes much, much longer than any of us would like, that it’s uncomfortable and messy, and that our presence really is our only offering, we’ll begin to actually meaningfully support those who are grieving.
Feeling anxious about doing and saying the right thing is natural. As best you can, trust your good instincts in wanting to help and to be there. Be your kindest and most patient self, either asking the person directly or trying to figure out what they need (this requires that you listen, listen again and then listen even more). They might even want you to make them laugh. Grief is hard, plain and simple. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and behaviour. One minute you can be crying and the next feeling even a little lighter. There are no formulas, there are no quick fixes. It’s complex, confusing and it hurts like hell. And one of the only real truths about it is: every single one of us will experience grief—It’s the price we pay to be human, to love, to live.
So, when you go through your own turbulent times (because you absolutely will), know there’s support and community for you, too, and you will know what to look for, because there was a time when you tried to build that for someone else (and for this, we grievers thank you. Thank you for not trying to fix us, for not telling us to “move on,” for not diminishing our pain. And also, thank you for offering hope, for standing alongside us even when we’re our least shiny and happy selves. Thank you for allowing us to be imperfectly human).
The only way through it is through it (and going through it with people who “get it” makes going through it even a little less heartbreaking).
We’re here to support you and want to ensure a better death becomes integral to a good life. To learn more and access additional resources visit www.eirene.ca