Our friend is sad. Her beloved was sick and after a valiant fight, died. Our friend is grieving. I love my friend and want to help but I feel helpless. I am sad too.
At times like these the world is reduced to the very simple. I don’t need a complicated description of how she feels or how I feel, because as you read that first sentence you know too. At our age it happens and more and more frequently.
How can we help our friend?
First there are two possible ugly situations that can raise their heads for us to avoid.
The first problem is knowing where as a friend you fit in. Unless we are direct family, we walk a fine line. The illness, the hospice, the death and the funeral were all dramatic. So many of us are drawn to the drama, as though we are cast as a supporting player in a soap opera. There is a personal dark side that oddly likes to feed off of another’s pain. I can insinuate myself where I don’t belong, making myself feel more special than I am by pretending to be a champion for our friend.
There were many examples of this, people who stay too long at the home, the hospital and the hospice, crowding out this last time for the family. People who used social media to publicly beat their breasts and lament. In fact, the death was posted on social media by a home visitor before family and appropriate friends had been told. At the cemetery of my mother’s funeral, after the final ceremony was finished and folk were headed to the reception, I wanted a moment alone at the site. Just a final, private good-bye to my mom. A woman, not a close close friend stood, blocking my only path, wailing. Her husband held her. She wept and wept and wept. I had to go to the restaurant to be a host and never got that moment, because someone, not family, blocked my time. It is a bitter memory.
This inappropriate insinuation can also come from feeling so helpless; the second problem. I want to help our friend’s sorrow so I felt the desire to hover, waiting to fill in a blank when it occurred. I wanted to ease what was happening for her. Good intentions, but I could not take away the hurt. Life had been been reduced to simple– sad. I needed to accept that there was no way I could take away the pain and step aside.
So what do we do? Remember life has been reduced to simple and so here are ten simple actions.
1. Brief visits. Don’t stay longer than 15 minutes, no matter what the family says. Don’t crowd out those special last private moments. Don’t turn our friend into a host, a stay longer than just a few minutes will require small talk and offers of food and drink.
2. Don’t ask ” What can I do?” We are going to ask it anyway but try to remember that brains can only make so many decisions in a day and our friend’s decision quota has already been over taxed. Say that you are sorry for the pain. Decide for your friend what you can do and offer something real or don’t offer.
3. What you can do –
- Walk the dogs
- Walk your friend
- Bring food in freezable containers and portions. Everyone brings food. Lots of food gets thrown out. However, if you bring food that is ready to eat and ready to freeze, then the grieving family will have it when all the people have left and it seems too much, too hard to cook.
- Do laundry
- Make a list of household/family chores that you would not mind have some one else do – and do one.
4. Mark your personal calendar as an urgent must do and then regularly offer to take your friend out. By the way, I have a friend who can’t eat because of her grief so she doesn’t want to go to restaurants. She doesn’t want to go anywhere. We have agreed that once a week I’ll take her out and she can watch me eat and I can watch her not eat. At least she is out, has changed her clothes, and sometimes she even nibbles.
5. Send a written note. In our era of texts and emails, a note feels more personal and intimate. It’s also something that can be touched and read many times. Don’t be Shakespeare, don’t be maudlin. Keep it short and simple.
6. Don’t compare grief. I know we have lost our husband, wife, mother, family and friends, but at the moment of loss our friend doesn’t care. They can’t care. Their pain is too big and raw.
7. Don’t suggest grief therapy. There may come a time for that but not for a bit. If suggested too soon or by someone who is not an intimate we can just push our friend into silence.
8. Expect and accept crazy. It happens. Loss and the huge life changes that come with it have moved our friend into unfamiliar territory – without a map. Episodes of silence, anger, over shopping, spiritualism, new friends, other friends, over drinking, over Netflixing, isolation, periods of travel without destination… or any wild change may happen has they try to find their way out of the wilderness. Unless the behavior is dangerous, try to just be our friend’s witness as she maps out a new life. The less judgement on our part the more we can remain her resource, her soulful cartographer.
9. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. This is a good one in general but during this time our friend will rely on us. We have to be reliable. If I can’t do it, I say “I’m sorry, I can’t do it”. If I’m not sure then I also need to say, “I’m sorry I can’t do it”. Our friend’s life is already too unstable for us to add to it with broken or vague promises.
TEN. Ask our friend to tell you their favorite memories about their loved one and then listen. Do this one and repeat, over and over for an indefinable time. This is sooooo important. Everyone is saying such kind things about the lost loved one but our friend can’t hear them. What our friend really wants to do is to tell US about their beloved. Listen. This may be the most precious gift.
There may be more things but you don’t have to look for them. If you keep to these ten things, you will be giving our friend true friendship during a time when she needs our true friendship.