What I’ve Learned From Becoming The Designated Grief Friend

I’ve become the designated grief friend. And I’m okay with that.

It’s what happens when you’re the first of your group to lose someone significant. It’s what happens when you’re the first person in your close and wider circle to experience everyone’s worst nightmare.

For me, it was losing my dad.

Your friends and acquaintances watch your journey, some from afar, some right there with you.

They watch as you tell them that your dad has had a seizure and the doctors have had to send the results from Melbourne to New York because no one knows why.

They watch as you throw up in the office bathroom when you find out it’s brain cancer.

They provide a literal shoulder to lean on when you find out it’s inoperable, Stage 4, and terminal.

They send you messages and flowers when they know you’re having a bad day.

They look on as you answer your monthly phone calls, bad result after bad result.

They hold your hand across the table at lunch when your dad calls to tell you the tumor has shrunk in half, and your tears of joy and feelings of bliss and shock are palpable.

A few months later, they grab the dinner bill while you hide your tears behind sunglasses in a restaurant full of people because you’ve just been told the tumor has grown, that there’s actually multiple tumors and there’s nothing more they can do.

They’re there for you when, at 55 years old, he loses the ability to walk and speak. Worst of all, his ability to surf.

They’re there for you when he enters hospital and then palliative care.

At the funeral, they listen to your eulogy and tell you he would have been proud. And afterwards, they make sure there’s something inside your stomach aside from Valium and champagne.

They watch you change, both for better and for worse. And all the while, they’re just grateful it’s not happening to them.

And then it does.

No story is the same, but grief is grief.

And when it comes their turn, they think of me, because I somehow went through the nightmare and came out on the other end. Not unscathed—no, no one comes out unscathed from grief.

But I’m okay again. I laugh and travel and live life how it was intended to be lived. How dad would have wanted me to live. And I’ve learned to live with my grief.

When a friend, or sometimes even a distant acquaintance, reaches out in their time of need, I feel every inch of my body and soul desire to help them.

It’s not always easy, and I don’t always have the words. And that’s because from experience, I know there’s really no words that can appease someone’s heartache in grief.

What I do tell them is to be patient.

I tell them that the only two relievers of grief are time and self-care. I say relievers because there’s no real cure. Grief stays with you forever. A loss is felt in your body, your heart, and your world. But you can live with it, and no matter how you feel at any current moment, especially when it’s fresh and raw, you will feel better.

It will get easier.

1. Time

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that only time will help, because it means we can do nothing but wait.

I tell my friends that even though they may not see a light at the end of the tunnel now, there is one. I tell them that even if they feel like they will never be okay again, they will be.

I explain to them how I felt in my worst moments, and that I felt as though I was drowning, and that it is very likely that they will feel like they’re drowning too.

I tell them that they will find their way back to the surface, but it may take some time. The feeling may come back in short bursts for the rest of their life, but it comes back less and less frequently.

I tell them that as hard as it is, they just need to wait.

2. Self-Care

We can’t control time, but we can control every minute of how we spent it.

I tell them to take care of themselves, and that it’s not selfish to take their time. It’s not selfish to decline invitations if they’re not feeling up to it. It’s not selfish to laugh and enjoy themselves after losing someone.

I tell them to:

Decline invitations —it’s okay to curl up under the blanket. The friends who matter won’t mind.

Accept invitations —it’s okay to enjoy yourself.

Have a bath, read books, listen to music.

Watch your favorite shows and films.

Exercise and eat well.

Take time off work if you need it, or get back into the swing of things if that’ll help too.

I tell my friends to take care of themselves, and that it’s okay to do so.

I tell them that grief is one of the hardest experiences anyone can go through and that they need to do everything in their power to get through it.

Once they come out on the other side, because they always do, they take place in the army of people who have grieved. The army of people who know what it’s like and how consuming it can be. Most importantly, they’ve joined those who can help others through it. They know what to say to help their friends who are grieving.

An advertising suit by day, and a writer on self-improvement by night.

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