How to be there for someone who has recently lost a loved one

Recently, my best friend’s mom passed away after a battle with cancer. While my friend was dealing with the immediate fall-out, I was dealing with how to be a good friend. I hadn’t had any past experience —fortunately— so I did what every 21st century person does when met with a problem they don’t know the answer to: I Googled it.

There were plenty of nice suggestions: cook meals and take them on a trip, look after the kids, cut their lawn. But they didn’t quite fit for a 25 year old, or for my friend. So I made some up myself. It’s not a hard-and-fast formula to make someone feel better, but maybe it will be of some use.

Use your words

Warning! Warning! When someone passes away, sometimes —a lot of times— you don’t know what to say. And that’s fine, it’s normal. As alien as it is to the person experiencing loss, it’s as alien to us, the friend, who is trying to help. People generally say “it will be OK.” But what will be OK? Life without your mum? That you’ll eventually feel OK? In the moment, the notion of “OK” or anything pertaining to normal may seem totally unattainable. It may even seem ignorant to suggest anything will ever be OK again. Your friend will no doubt know you’re trying your best but in the moment, misusing words can come appear cold or uncaring. Choose your words carefully and specifically. Express your sympathy for the loss of someone so dear, your sadness that they’re going through this, and offer your support. There’s no magic formula but a simple “I’m here for you” goes a long way.

Be present

And on that note, live up to your word. In this case, actions help a whole lot more than words can. Loss can be an incredibly lonely; don’t assume that your friend just wants to be alone. You can bet that most of their waking moments are spent thinking about their loved one which can be as comforting as it is upsetting. Even if it’s an extra body to cry with, someone other than family to speak to about their loved one, or a sliver of normality for a few hours, give them the opportunity to say “no” to your company, rather than forcing them to reach out to you.

Give presents

When someone’s ill, worlds revolve around them and their needs. When my friend’s mum was first diagnosed with cancer, my friends and I put together a gift basket for my friend. It was a “you take care of you,” filled with her favorite goodies and some things to help her cope with the next, testing steps ahead. A bottle of red, some soothing candles, nice relaxing bubble bath, iTunes vouchers, Bach’s Rescue Remedy and a tooth-decaying amount of chocolate were there when, in between all the doctors appointments and hospital visits, she needed a bit of “me” time.

Daily sunshine

In case you didn’t know, there’s a whole lot of funny stuff on the Internet. And if, like my friend and I, you find dogs in costumes, unfortunate autocorrects, and gifs of people falling over to be the funniest things in the world, a “Daily Sunshine” might raise a smile. Remember our old friend email? Each day, have something light, funny, inspirational or downright silly drop into your friend’s inbox; it could be a song, a meme, a blog, a YouTube video, a photo of the two of you being goofballs. . .anything that will raise a smile!

Use your friends

If you and your friend share a friendship group, rally the troops! When you assemble the girls (or boys), you’re bringing more energy and more semblance of normality, a precious ray in an otherwise abnormal forecast. Have the girls over for tea and cake, cook a meal, break out the hard stuff, even head off for a weekend away. It’s said that friends make the good times better and the hard times easier, so make sure your friend knows that you’ll weather the storm together.

Tace Bleasby is a lover of travel, movies, good food and Tom Hanks. Her ‘must do better’ is starting new TV shows right from the start, and not in their 4th season. She often wishes she was a girl in a Bruce Springsteen song. Or a tap dancer. Or Tina Fey.

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