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The death of a loved one sends people on a bittersweet inner journey they would rather not take. When the journeyer is a friend most of us would like to be of help. What does that mean?
Sometimes we keep our distance because we feel awkward or do not want to get in the way. Others of us, with the best of intentions, irritate or annoy those grieving by overdoing our sympathy.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” A friend is a friend as a cat is a cat. Cats are simply there, going about cat business. If your friend has just suffered a loss, just go about a friend’s business. You don’t have to make your friend feel better although your presence might accomplish that.
Your friend will need a patient listener, your presence at the funeral services, and reminders they are loved. Feel free to use the deceased person’s name, most grievers appreciate that. Should you feel sad, let it show. That is a natural way to provide empathy.
Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.” Even if you’ve known heartache, that sentence easily offends or irritates those in mourning. Refrain from sharing stories of your own past griefs and nix the cliches; when someone’s loss is recent, they don’t help.
Some people cry a river when grieving, others are more stoic. Some keep constantly busy while others curl up in a chair for hours at a time. There are those who feel the effect of the loss immediately and those who have a delayed reaction. Your friend will appreciate your confidence that they will heal, and in their own way.
The poet Dodinsky writes,
“We are the captains of our own ships sailing the sea of life, but in times of stormy weather, you will discover true friends when they don’t hesitate to be a lighthouse.”
Allow your friend to sob and be a mess, to be in the dumps, change directions, flounder, and to be happy. You will be a beacon by being there without judgments.
Many people say, “If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.” They may be sincere but there’s a better way to be of service:
“If a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him by asking whether there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it.” (E. W. Howe)
Do you have a skill or expertise you can offer your friend (or their family)? Some people will need help organizing their finances after a loved one dies. Others might not have a clue how to microwave soup and need cooking lessons. If you have time and talent, the family may enjoy putting together a remembrance book or setting up a memorial website.
There are also many tasks most anyone can do such as mowing the lawn, taking the kids to a movie, laundry, and housekeeping, or having their car washed. It’s amazing how much fun those activities are when doing them to help a friend.
Offer your friend support on holidays and the deceased person’s anniversaries. You can visit the grave site with him or her and send them an occasional note of inspiration. There is another very important thing you can do.
In the 1990 movie Men Don’t Leave, the character Beth, (played by Jessica Lange) lost her husband. She spent days in bed trying to sleep the pain away and was neglecting her children. This went on for some time, until the character played by Joan Cusack, stormed into Beth’s bedroom, yanked her out of bed, and took her and the children on a hot air balloon ride. It was the kickstart Beth needed to start living again.
The humanitarian Albert Schweitzer wrote,
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
Follow your instincts. Your friend may need to borrow some of your energy to get moving again. If you are not into hot air balloons, just go out for coffee, to a movie, horseback riding, or take a walk in the nearest woods. Whatever your friend would enjoy or be inspired by is perfect.
photo credit: Jan Kromer
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