DEAR DOCTOR K: A close friend suddenly and unexpectedly lost her spouse. How can I help her through her grief?
DEAR READER: It’s not easy to console a grieving friend; you can’t fix the situation. Instead, just be present and offer hope toward the future. Accept that your friend’s grieving is a natural process that will gradually ebb. Here are a few specific, practical pieces of advice:
• Name names. Don’t be afraid to mention the deceased.
• Offer hope. People who have grieved often remember that the person who reassured them that things would get better was the one who helped them transition from pain to a renewed sense of life.
• Make phone calls. Call to express your sympathy.
• Write a note. If you had a relationship with the deceased, try to include a warm, caring or funny anecdote.
• Keep in touch. Your friend may need you more after the first few weeks, when other people may stop calling.
• Help out. Be specific when offering help. Volunteer to shop or do laundry, bring dinner or pass on information about funeral arrangements. Sometimes your help is most valuable later. For example, offer to help go through papers or belongings whenever your friend is ready to do so.
• Make a date. Ask your friend to join you for a walk or meal once a week. Don’t take it personally if your friend rebuffs offers or doesn’t return every phone call.
• Listen well instead of advising. People often work through grief and trauma by telling their story over and over. Unless you are asked for your advice, don’t be quick to offer it.
• Avoid judgments. Your friend’s life and emotional landscape have changed enormously, possibly forever. You may wish he or she would move on, but you can’t speed the process or even ensure that it happens.