How Can I Help My Friends Help Me Grieve?

Rear view photo of two adults standing in field under cloudy sky. Person in flannel shirt and baseball cap has arm around person with long ponytailLoss is a great equalizer. It knows no age, gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or value system.

At some point in life, we will all experience loss. If we want to be healthy humans, we have no choice but to lean into the grief that comes along with each and every loss.

Loss also has many faces.

Types of loss include, but are not limited to:

No matter who you are, at any given moment in life, either you or someone you come into regular contact may be actively grieving. If you are grieving, and struggling to cope with your grief, I encourage you to seek support from an experienced grief counselor.

Friends and family can be of great help during the grieving process. But sometimes, they might not know how to help or what to say. You might be unsure of how to ask for what you need. If you are wondering how you can help your loved ones and others around you help you get through your grief, these suggestions may be helpful.

Surrender

On a societal scale, we are often taught that strength means muted feelings. But in my opinion, this is nothing more than a lie intended to make everyone except the bereaved feel comfortable. We’ve all seen it. You may have been to a funeral where someone has just lost their child or the love of their life and the person seems to be “fine”—because they are in a state of total shock. But people applaud them for their “strength,” their “faith,” and their willingness to just “be okay” during a most atrocious time.

Being okay when life isn’t okay is not strength. It is self-protection. And those who praise a person in shock for their marked “strength” may fear the feelings of loss they have yet to face.

When we are in pain, we might wish others could read our minds and know just what to say to us. When the people we really need help from don’t reach out to us, we create stories about them not caring or us being a burden. But usually, that is the opposite of the truth.

True pain requires surrender. It requires acceptance, on a very deep level, that not only do you not have control over the loss you have just endured, you also have no control over how much pain it causes you.

To help your friends help you grieve, practice surrendering to the reality of what you endured. In other words, when someone tells you, “You are so strong. I am so proud of you for being so strong,” or “You are a rock. I admire your strength,” or some variation of that old standby theme, I want to encourage you to tell the truth.

You might say something like, “I am absolutely not okay. I don’t feel okay. I am terrified, lonely, and afraid.” Or “If by strong you mean falling apart, then you are absolutely right. In that case, I am definitely very strong.” Sharing how you’re really feeling can make all the difference between you putting up a wall to others who show up for you and you creating a support system of the people who can help you walk through the pain you’re experiencing.

When you truly surrender to the reality of your pain and speak the truth, the wrong people will slip away and the right people will rise up, supporting you when you need them most.

Make a Call

No matter who you are on this planet, I guarantee you have at least one human being you can call. When we are in pain, we might wish others could read our minds and know just what to say to us. When the people we really need help from don’t reach out to us, we create stories about them not caring or us being a burden. But usually, that is the opposite of the truth.

The people who love us most have their own challenges and coping patterns they are working through. Maybe they aren’t calling because you’ve told them you are fine and they have taken you at your word. Maybe they aren’t calling because when they’re sad, they like to process their feelings alone, and they assume you feel the same way they do. Or maybe they aren’t calling because they love you but are afraid of your pain. They may simply need some help realizing they aren’t responsible for fixing your pain, that all you need is someone to sit with you while you are in it.

These are only a few reasons people may not show up. As you can see, it’s likely not the case your loved ones are intentionally not reaching out. People can’t read minds, but most people really do want to show up for the ones they love. Your friends may just need a little nudge to know what you need. If you let them know, you may find they are more than happy to show up.

So if you are having a particularly hard bout of grief, call your friends. Ask them for exactly what you need. If you are in so much pain you don’t have any clue about what you need, it is okay to say that, too. Either way, you are making your pain, your need for space in their lives, known. You are also honoring your own loss by speaking it aloud.

Invite People In

When we are grieving, we tend to isolate. While there are certainly times during the grief process we need to be alone in our pain and just cry it out, there are most definitely other times when we absolutely should not be alone.

When you are going through a bad spell of grieving, ask a few of your closest friends to come into your home space and just sit with you. This may seem hard to do at first. But this step can actually help create two very positive things for you during this process.

  1. This shows others that you not only need their help, but want it.
  2. This also shows others you trust them enough to let them get closer to you when your instincts are telling you to push everyone away.

Even though it is natural to want to erect huge walls and push people away when we are in pain, this is the worst thing we can do if we want to process our feelings, face our losses, and begin to heal.

If this step is difficult for you, just take it slow. Follow these three steps in order, but don’t pressure yourself to do them perfectly or even quickly. This is your grief. This is your time. And these are only suggestions.

Ultimately, you are the guide of your own grief. I encourage you to journey through it as quickly or as slowly as you need to.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Blythe C. Landry, MEd, LCSW, therapist in Nashville, Tennessee

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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