The loss of a parent is a special kind of grief one must navigate. A grief that comes in waves across a lifetime. Bubbling up from the surface at family gatherings where there is an empty chair or one less plate, when it is their birthday and they aren’t there to blow out their candles, or on your wedding day when they aren’t there to give you away. Often times our first instinct is to not talk about something that we know is painful. Even more so, we tend to avoid talking about the things we have not experienced and do not understand. When a friend loses their parent, we may think that they do not want to talk about it: their feelings surrounding the loss, the loss itself and the memories they have of their parent.
After the busyness of funeral preparations and services, suddenly there is a quiet spell. People stop reaching out, the flowers they sent start dying, and the food that was lovingly dropped off is now just a bunch of empty containers. The gaping hole of where their parent once was is now magnified by this emptiness. One of the hardest parts of grieving is how quickly ‘real life’ resumes, the world keeps on spinning and it feels like everyone has forgotten about the loved one you lost. It feels like no one cares any more. Your friend needs to know that you still care. They need you now, more than they ever have. They need to talk, and when they cannot find the words, they need you to simply sit with them.
Below I have compiled a list of ways to help you better support your grieving friend. Disclaimer: this advice is based on what has worked in my own personal experience and is only a guide.
1. Talk about how they are feeling: Do not pretend that nothing has happened and that everything is fine. They do not actually want you to sweep this under the rug. If you hold space for your friend, they will likely start talking on their own without much of a prompt from you. If you feel like they need some help opening the channels of communication, simply ask them how they are holding up.
2. Share your memories: If you see something that reminds you of their parent, something they would have liked or something that reminds you of a memory you have of them, share this with your friend. It means a lot to them to know that people are still thinking about their parent and haven’t forgotten them.
3. Continue doing the things you have always done together: If you usually go for coffee once a week, keep that tradition alive even if it turns into coffee together at home.
4. Check in on them without smothering them: A quick text to say “Hey I’m thinking about you,” goes a long way.
5. Do something fun: Get them out of the house, go for a walk, go to a movie, go shopping, anything that will help them get out of their head for a little while and experience some joy.
6. Surprise them with their favourite food or treat: Grieving people often forget to eat and surprising them with one of their favourites is a reminder that you pay attention to the details and that you care.
7. Know that there is nothing you can say to make it better and that they do not expect you to have all the right words and answers: Simply saying “This is unfair and horrible but we will get through this together,” is reassuring and does not belittle their loss and grief the way “Everything happens for a reason and everything will be fine,” does. You mean well when you say this, but it isn’t helping.
8. Do not treat your friend like they are fragile: Do not treat them differently than before. They want your empathy of course but not your pity. Constantly looking at them with sad puppy dog eyes and talking to them in a delicate voice isn’t the answer.
9. Your support is needed for the long haul: Your friend will have periods of time where they seem absolutely fine and they will have days where the weight of their grief comes crashing down on them seemingly out of nowhere. Be there for both.