How to Help a Friend Through Loss
It’s been six years since my son died. The calendar tells me this, but my heart cannot understand it. That is the thing with grief—it is not rational. It does not know time. It doesn’t run its course. It’s always there, the dull ache of something lost that can’t be found. And yet, all is not lost.
There is still the promise of eternity.
There is the promise that this is not goodbye, just see you soon.
As someone who has been through grief, my heart breaks for those who are going through loss. So it’s not unusual for me to get asked: How can I help a friend through loss? Although there is not one right way to support a loved one in this difficult time, here is a list of ideas to help a friend through loss.
Seven Ways to Help a Friend Through Loss
1. Remember the loss. Once I attended a Jewish synagogue where families who had lost loved ones that month were highlighted in the foyer. At first it seemed odd to me, but I realized that it helped members remember who was grieving a loss that month. If it’s the anniversary of someone’s death, send their loved ones a card, give a hug, call or text them, but don’t avoid them. If you can’t remember the exact date, that’s okay too. Even saying, “I know this is a hard month for you” is a way to express to that person that their hurt matters.
If someone lost a loved one recently, continue to check in with them. After the first couple months of grief, people generally stop bringing meals and offering sympathies. This becomes an intensely lonely and difficult time.
Have coffee with them every few months. Call or text them saying, “I’m thinking of you. How are you doing?” My love language is cooking and feeding people is my way of showing I care.
No matter what idea you choose, it’s not about making their grief better, it’s about helping a friend through loss.
2. Be willing to listen. Don’t try to solve problems or tell them what to do to get over it. Never say, “You should be over this.” “You need to get past this.” Or anything that sounds like, “Aren’t you done with this yet?” There is no getting over it; there is only living with it. A quiet spirit says volumes about how much you care.
3. Ask questions about the loved one who died. Many people are afraid to bring up the person who passed away because they fear it will make the grief worse. But reminiscing is a way to heal. Most people want to tell stories about the person that has died, but they fear everyone has forgotten them or no longer cares.
4. Accept the emotional roller coaster that may accompany this loss. The anniversary of this death could be a difficult day, even two, three, five or ten years out. Don’t rush them through it. Sit with them in their pain. Send a text or just show up.
5. Pray for them. We have a night of the week that we pray for those who are sad, mourning and in grief. This list includes those who have lost a loved one, had a miscarriage, or are going through the loss of a marriage. It helps to remember that prayer is a form of comfort too.
6. Do a random act of kindness. Leave ice cream or coffee on their doorstep (make sure they’re home first). Send a gift card or surprise them in some anonymous way. We had “ice cream commandos” leave us a gallon of ice cream, plus toppings, on our door step. You really can’t go wrong with a random act of kindness.
7. Do something in memory of the person who has died. This ranges from lighting a candle to donating money to a charity in that person’s honor. Some people do a walk-a-thon in memory of a loved one. Others leave a decoration at a gravesite. Our neighborhood turned on their porch lights in remembrance of our son. As we arrived home in the evening, the neighborhood was flooded in light. It was a subtle and silent way to honor our son.
Finally, if you aren’t sure what to do, remember this: Your presence matters more than anything else. Just show up. This is how you help a friend through loss.