How to Help Your Friend With Grief and Loss
Communicate Care & Concern
The process of grief and loss can be complicated and challenging. Having people, especially good friends, can be helpful when having such an experience. Communicate to your friend that you're here for them. Even if you have not gone through the same experience you can still be a stable support for them. Grief is a natural and emotional reaction to a significant loss. Grieving is the process of emotional and life adjustment you go through after a loss, and healing occurs gradually. Communicate to your friend that what they're going through is a normal process.
Ask, Assess, & Affirm
The process of grieving is personal and varies from person to person. However, it may be helpful for your friend to know the common stages of grief so that they are able to assess where they are in the grieving process.
Affirm to your friend that experiencing any of the following emotions are normal. Be mindful not everyone will go through these stages, and there is no sequential order to them.
- Denial: "This can't be happening to me."
- Anger: "Why is this happening? Who is to blame?"
- Bargaining: "Make this not happen, and in return I will ____."
- Depression: "I'm too sad to do anything."
- Acceptance: "I'm at peace with what happened."
In addition, people may experience a variety of feelings associated with grief and loss including shock or disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear, or physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, or aches and pains. Be sure to check in with your friend about experiencing these feelings, physical symptoms, and where they are in the grieving process.
Reach for Resources & Refer
Part of being a good friend is to know when you need to encourage your friend to seek additional help. The resources below might be helpful to you and your friend throughout this time. Also, if you feel as though your friend is having a particularly hard time with their grief, you may want to encourage them to come to personal counseling. It's a free service for all Penn State students and is located in the Student Affairs Office on the second floor of the Commons Building.
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief (Whitmore-Hickman, 1994)
Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving (Fumia, 2003)
Coping with Grief: A Self-Help Guide (Komar, 2002)
A Life Guide to Helping Others Cope with Grief: http://www.foh.dhhs.gov/NYCU/copingtips.pdf
A Life Guide to Grief and Bereavement: http://www.foh.dhhs.gov/NYCU/grief.pdf
Coping with Grief and Loss /sites/default/files/campus/Coping_with_Grief.pdf
Engage, Explain, & Eliminate Danger
The most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Explain to your friend that receiving support will help them to heal. Avoid trying to tell them from whom to seek or receive support. Let them choose. Some people may prefer the support of friends and family, while others may find it in their faith, a support group, or a professional therapist or grief counselor. It's also important to keep in mind that grief can deplete energy. While your friend my find some solace in the support of others they may still want to be alone. The times they spend alone can be opportunities for them to engage in self-care. Engage your friend in their grieving process by sharing the self-care tips such as:
- Get Creative- Write about your loss in a journal, start a blog, write a letter to the person you lost, make a scrapbook celebrating the person's life, or get involved in a cause that was important to him or her.
- Keep it moving- The normal exercise routine may feel strenuous especially if it includes an hour of running or an hour in kickboxing class. However, walking can be soothing, as can yoga or tai chi.
- Rest- Make sure you are sleeping and engaging in activities that reenergize you. Sometimes re-energizing means drinking a cup of tea, listening to your favorite music, drawing, or reading.
- Plan ahead for grief triggers- Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for sudden emotions during these times, and know that it's completely normal.
If you or another Penn State Brandywine student would like to speak with a counselor, feel free to contact Penn State Brandywine's Counseling Services Department at 610-892-1270.
This information was modified from the following sites:
Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2012, January). Helpguide.org. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm
Vorvick, M. (2010, February 18). Pubmedhealth. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002497/
WebMD. (2009, December 07). Webmd. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/tc/grief-and-grieving-topic-overview