Show your support to a grieving friend by listening

By JENNIFER L. GRAY, Ph.D., Special to The Mirror

Grief has a way of emptying any and all available pockets of happiness.

In its wake, grief leaves behind its companion’s loneliness and despair. Grief settles like a dark veil blocking the sunlight and any hope for happiness.

When polite but generic platitudes like “I’m sorry for your loss” don’t seem like enough, what else can you do to help a friend or family member in need? Suffering the loss of a loved one is a painful, often excruciating process that requires time and the compassion of others to initiate the slow, agonizing process of healing.

One of the most important demonstrations of support to a friend who is grieving is your willingness to listen. Talking about the death and incidents surrounding that death is a critical aspect toward working through the pain and despair of losing someone you love and care about deeply. Don’t avoid the subject. People want to talk, and they want someone to listen. Offer your willingness to listen. Make yourself available and remember to listen without distraction by providing your full and undivided attention.

Instead of making a general statement of help, suggest specific, concrete ideas for how you might provide help to the other person.

For example, offer to come over on Saturday afternoon and rake up the leaves that have accumulated in the backyard, extend an invitation for dinner or ask to baby-sit the kids for a couple of hours so that your friend can get some grocery shopping accomplished. These acts of kindness send the message that you care and want to be of assistance.

Continue to give support even after the funeral service and the last of the casseroles from generous neighbors have been eaten. Grief is a lengthy process and requires extended love and patience from those who care. Remind your friend that you are there for him or her.

Continue to call and make plans even if your phone calls are not always answered promptly or your friend complains that he or she is not good company right now. Make yourself available even when the other person is unable or unwilling to ask for help.

Share a special memory about the loved one and ask your friend to do the same. The sadness of bereavement can become so all-encompassing that there is a loss of focus on the positive memories. Remember and encourage your friend to share the details of a vacation to Lake Chelan or a surprise birthday party. Humorous memories and anecdotes will also inspire reminiscing of the loved one while encouraging the healing power of laughter.

In conclusion, there are many ways to support and offer assistance to a friend who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Offer more than generic sympathy by suggesting specific, concrete ideas for providing help. Listen when needed and encourage your friend to talk about feelings of loss.

When possible, share your memories about the loved one. Friendship is a vehicle for more than words of condolence.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a private practice psychotherapist in Federal Way who provides individual, couple and family counseling. Contact (253) 653-0168 or visit

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