We all experience loss. Unfortunately, it's one of the only things that is guaranteed in life. It could be someone you weren't too close with or someone who was the most important person in your life. I recently lost someone whose falls into the latter category. My dad passed away last fall after fighting a long hard battle with cancer.
I had years to think, "What if he doesn't make it?" I often thought about how I would feel, but the thing with death is you never truly know how it's going to feel until it happens. And the thing with death is the grief comes in various levels, depending on how close that person was to you. I thought when my aunt died years ago that that was the hardest thing I would ever have to go through, but as much as I loved her and she meant so much to me, she wasn't my dad.
My dad was everything to me. He was not only the man I looked up to the most, he told me my favorite jokes, he was my shelter in awkward situations, my encyclopedia on everything and my rock who would remind me everything would be fine. Losing him was the hardest thing I think I'll ever have to deal with, and my grieving process is still going on.
It's hard when someone that important to you is no longer around, but I have found immense comfort from my friends. I'm thankful for my friends for helping me. I know it hasn't been easy especially when you've never experienced something like this before, but you can be there for a friend, despite never having lost someone important to you.
Here are five ways you can help a friend grieving:
1. Let Them Talk
I know sometimes the easiest thing for me to do that helps is to just talk about my dad. It helps for me to tell other people how awesome he was. If I'm talking about my dad, don't think it's because I'm sad and you need to cheer me up by changing the subject. I want to talk about my dad and the stories I tell are good ones, not sad ones.
Forget that I'm grieving for a second while you listen, and just think I'm telling you this awesome story about my dad who is still alive. You would laugh if it was funny. Do that.
The greatest thing a friend did for me once when I was upset was she asked me to send her memories of my dad. She said she liked hearing about him, and that may be true, but I'm sure she was just saying that to make me feel more comfortable sharing. It worked because I sent her so many memories and I thank her for allowing me to share.
2. Tread Lightly On Trying To Relate
I think the most insulting thing you can do when your friend is grieving is to try and relate to their feelings. We all feel something different. You don't have to be on my level of sadness to help me through it, so please don't try and tell me you know how it feels.
I remember one of my friends trying to relate to me by saying that the feeling of no longer having my dad in my life was similar to how he no longer has his ex-girlfriend in his life. Last I checked your ex-girlfriend was still alive, and if you wanted to send her a birthday card or see her on social media, you could.
I will never get a chance to interact with my dad again. It's just not the same. I love my friend for trying, but you don't have to "know my pain" to be there for me.
3. Share Your Coping Methods
The other side of don't try to relate is if you have similar grief, like in my case a lost parent, by all means share your wisdom. I've had friends who have lost parents to cancer and they will reach out to me. They will not try to relate because they know that all grief is different but they have told me how they cope.
A friend who I wish I was closer to reached out as soon as she heard about my dad. She had lost her mother to cancer and she was very important to her as well. She told me it was okay to be sad and cry a lot. She also told me it was OK to upset when I didn't cry. I didn't know I needed to hear this until she told me. I was upset, I was crying a lot, but when I found myself not crying I was upset with myself for not being more upset. I found comfort in knowing I wasn't alone and her words helped me.
4. Take Them Out But Allow Them To Cry
The hardest part of grieving is you want to stay home and be sad. I know I just didn't feel like going out, not because I wanted to be stuck inside crying all day, I just didn't know if I could make it out in public without crying every few minutes.
I needed a friend to be OK with me crying and still take me out. My friends and I started a sad brunch. We will go out for brunch as friends but we have a mutual understanding that if we cry that is totally OK.
I knew I needed to get out. You need to get back to normal at some point. You will never be "normal" again because the grief never really goes away, but you do have to keep going on with your life. You can help a friend keep going by taking them out, but allow your friend to be sad. Crying in public is hard, but doing it with a friend is easier. Movies can be an easy escape. There's not a better place to cry in public than a dark movie theater.
5. Give Them Time
The grief never goes away. There is no timeline to this. There is never a solution and someone is finally OK again. They will always be hurting, the hurting just becomes more manageable.
I know it's almost been a year since I lost my dad, and I feel like I'm exhausting my friends by still talking about losing him. I feel like they want to say, "We get it. You're sad. Move on." But it's not that easy.
I talked about my dad a lot before he died, so I'm going to keep talking about him. Don't think every time I mention my dad I'm upset. I just have something to say. I will never stop talking about my dad. I'm always missing him because the grieving never ends, but that's not a bad thing. I want to miss him. He was important to me so I feel like missing him just proves how important he was to me. I will never stop grieving and a good friend will be okay with that.
All grieving is different but I have found these to be the things I have valued the most from my friends in my time of loss. If you have a friend dealing with losing someone important to them, you can be there for them. I know it's awkward. You may not know how to help, but know that you can. You are capable and you will do great.