1. Stay. Don’t Run.
It takes courage to be present to a friend in circumstances this difficult. Be courageous. Answer the telephone when they call. Whenever they call. You don’t need to say anything. Sometimes what you say may not be helpful. Listen. Listen. Listen. Your presence and ability to sit in this discomfort with your friend is the best gift you can give.
2. Be in touch regularly.
Set a reminder on your phone to ensure consistent contact. In the early days, schedule it daily. Text or call. Leave a message. Then continue weekly, for a long time. Send kind words, prayers, or a handwritten note. Don’t expect a reply. Repeat often. (Note: "Thinking of you" works just fine if you don't know what to say.)
3. Don’t ask “how” it happened.
This is really important even if you don't understand why. Don’t ask “how” the death happened. This is especially true for sudden losses, when the cause of death could be from suicide, accidental overdose, or alcohol/substance abuse. These circumstances can bring up difficult issues and complicated emotions. Your desire to "know" is not as important as the pain you could inflict. Please do not add insult to injury. If you're asked "how" by others, help coach them to understanding by saying: "You know, I'm not exactly sure, but I recently read that it's best not to focus on the details of death, because that's not what's important here. Her child is gone, and what really matters is that she's in unimaginable pain. The article I read had some great tips about how to help her. I can forward that to you."
4. Remember the date of death.
Be especially mindful of the date of death. Many bereaved mothers and grandmothers count the weeks, months, days, (some even count the hours) since their loss. Make sure to contact your friend on the monthly date. (Continue that for the first year or so, and do the same for the annual date.) You don’t need to mention it if it’s not comfortable for you, but it will mean a lot to your friend if you do mention it. You may not want to “make her sad.” She will be sad anyway, and it will warm her heart if she knows you have remembered. A bereaved mother or grandmother doesn’t feel as alone if you make her feel that you are united with her in her grief. Consider sending flowers on especially hard days like anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, etc.
5. Say the name of the deceased.
Bereaved mothers and grandmothers do not want to feel that their child or grandchild has been forgotten. It may feel counterintuitive to you (or uncomfortable) to bring up the name of your friend’s lost loved one, but it’s heartwarming to the bereaved. Bring up stories, quirky things about their children or grandchildren, special memories, and any dreams that you may have had about them. This is medicine for the soul of a grieving mother or grandmother. Continue doing this for as long as you know her.
6. Be IN this with her.
Say things like “when WE lost him/her” or “this is a hard journey and I’m in this with you all the way.” Express your support in words and action. When you don’t know what to say, say nothing. Or simply say: “I don’t know what to say, “I don’t know what to do,“ or, “What can I do for you right now?”
7. Participate in healing and mourning activities.
Encourage your friend to continue the movement in her grief journey. She is now on a path that she didn’t choose (or want), and it will never end. It will be bumpy, rocky, and sometimes she will get stuck in the mud. Help her “do” things that will contribute toward her growth and transformation. For example, help her hang photos or create a memorial space for her lost loved one, visit the gravesite with her, suggest that she attend one of the Sacred Sorrows weekend retreats, talk to her about how she can do things to honor her child’s memory (plant a garden, set up a birdfeeder, etc.) and then help her do those things. The options are unlimited.
8. Be sensitive when sharing the news of your life.
Of course, your friend loves you and wants to share in the joy of your life. Don’t hold everything back from her. But be very sensitive in sharing the great news and wonderful stories of things going on in your life, particularly if they have to do with your children or grandchildren. It can be very hard for a bereaved mother to hear about your amazing blessings of grandchildren when she has just lost a grandchild. Above all, don’t complain about your children or the hardships that you think they are causing you. A grieving mother would give anything to be with her child, no matter what hardship it might entail. Be very mindful about what you share, and perhaps save this kind of news to share with another friend who is not grieving.
9. Try to have some fun with your friend.
Surprise your friend by dropping by with a picnic or a beverage and take her on a little field trip. Or, suggest that you read a book together, or take a walk on a weekly basis together, or…. anything that seems helpful. Try to do something different or adventurous. Your friend’s brain is “re-wiring.” Doing different things will help her.
10. Don't buck the change.
At the moment your friend experienced her loss, her whole world changed, and so did she. Your relationship with her may take years to move into a new balance. Hang in there. Both you and your friend will grow and transform through this, and come to a deeper and more meaningful relationship. Be honest and open in your communication. Things are going to change in your friendship. Accept this.
11. Be yourself.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Your presence and your love are your greatest gifts. With all things in life, it’s messy. And this is REALLY messy. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
12. Listen and learn.
Listen to an audio about the importance of being a supportive friend on this journey. It's the first podcast on this page.
When commenting, please consider the sensitivity of other readers and share from your own experience. Thanks for making this a hopeful and healing experience for all of our members.