As we age, many of us lose people who are near and dear. For some, death comes suddenly and even peacefully. Unfortunately for others, the process is more drawn out.
When our friends have loved ones who are suffering from terminal illnesses or chronic conditions, it puts a strain on everyone.
Often we aren’t sure what to say when our best friend is losing their husband to cancer, or their mother to Alzheimer’s.
There aren’t really any “right words” to comfort a friend who will inevitably lose their loved one. However, psychologists do recommend certain approaches to ease the burden.
According to Kate Evans, who is a licensed Clinical Professional Counsellor, the are several steps involved with helping a friend in need.
1. Embrace any stage of grief
According to Evans, it’s important to realise that everyone grieves differently. Friends with loved ones who are dying may already be grieving, long before a death actually occurs.
“One person’s grief is never the same as another”, explained Evans. Therefore, it’s important to be supportive and non-judgemental throughout all grieving stages.
“Variables include the cause and length of death, the personal resiliency of the grieving person, what their previous experiences have been, how large their support network is and their relationship to the person lost”, Evans added.
One Starts at 60 reader described her own grieving process like this: “By the time my mother passed away, I had already grieved for her in many ways”.
“Mum lost the ability to eat, walk and eventually even talk. She couldn’t have recognise us, or have a conversation and her body no longer served her”.
“In a way, I grieved for the loss of my mother’s vivacious, intelligent and lively personality long before she actually passed away. Dementia took Mum from us long before her death”.
2. Outrightly ask what your friend needs
We’re often uncomfortable being upfront about death and illness, but sometimes that’s exactly what our friends need to hear.
“It’s normal to feel you can guess what your friend needs based on what you might need in their position. Because we’re all different, it is best to ask them what it is that you can do for them”, Evans explained.
“If they say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘nothing’, resist the desire to walk away in your frustration or worry. Just offer your support in whatever way you can and let them know that you will be there when they think of something”.
3. Resist commenting on your friend’s strength
“We are often inclined to praise the person who appears to be coping stoically with a (illness, dying or) loss”, said Evans.
“The problem is that we need to allow them to be human and vulnerable sometimes too. After all, there’s strength in letting out your emotions from time to time”.
It might be more useful to ensure that your friend is getting adequate support, especially as their loved one approaches death. After all, it’s hard to support someone else without help yourself.
“There is only so much that a friend or family member can offer to someone who is grieving without putting too much strain on themselves”.
“Gently suggest seeking therapeutic help to give them a special place to cope with their loss”, Evans suggested.
No matter what, loss is always a challenging process. Simply be there for your friends and trust that your support is both unique and essential.