How to Help a Friend Through the Grieving Process

By: David Tindall
Friday, November 13, 2015

Watching a friend go through the grieving process can make a person feel helpless. The truth is, that grief itself is a personal monster. There is no way to snap out of grief, it’s a process that needs to happen and be respected.

Each person processes grief differently so there is no single right way to help someone through it. However there are many tips that we can offer to aid a person struggling with grief.

Recognize the Stages

The five stages of grief are a standard when processing a loss and by simply recognizing the stages, you can help your friend with different coping methods.

The five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial – Phrases like, “this isn’t possible,” are common to hear when someone is in denial. This coping mechanism is something we do to protect ourselves from the initial shock of loss.
     
  2. Anger – When the shock of the loss and the denial that comes with it begins to abate, it can lead into anger, or feeling of frustration. This is another defense mechanism we use to protect our vulnerability. At this point in grief we are typically not yet ready to feel the emotion fully, so we resort to anger.
     
  3. Bargaining – As people, feeling helpless is not something that we are used to. By bargaining or thinking about all of the “what-ifs” we can feel some kind of control over the situation.
     
  4. Depression – Before acceptance, we must travel through depression. These feelings usually come in the form of regret or sadness. We may also feel depression when thinking about the practical aspects of loss, such as funeral costs.
     
  5. Acceptance – Most people who make it to the acceptance stage will still feel sadness and remorse, but will take solace in accepting their loved one is passed and will admit to a beautiful life lived and be able to move on from the grief with fond memories of their loved one. Not everyone will reach this stage.

Understanding the Individual Nature of Grief

Once you have recognized the five stages of grief, the next step in helping your friend is to throw away expectations and understand that each person will process grief differently. No single person will have the same experience and when it comes to grief, the most important part for a friend is to simply be there. By letting the grief-stricken know that you are there if they need you, they are able to process the grief on their own terms while knowing you support them.

Communication is Key

By communicating often with your friend and asking them if they need anything from you, you are giving them the option to ask for help. At the funeral they will probably experience a lot of people offering help but what will make a real difference in their grief is to follow up and check on them often.

If your communication doesn’t seem to work and your friend is at the risk of harming himself or herself, you can always recommend other assistance for them such as a group or grief counselor.

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