Ways to Support a Grieving Friend
Don’t let the myths be your guide
“Bereaved people are some of the most selfless people in the world. They never want to inflict their pain on anybody.”
This observation comes from experience.
Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Stephen Fleming has a private practice in Brampton and Mississauga, Ont. He teaches psychology at York University and during the 1970s was among the first professionals to counsel Bereaved Families of Ontario. He knows what grief looks like.
Just because the grief-stricken fear being a burden doesn’t mean they don’t want – or need – support. They do.
If you have a bereaved friend and you want to help, but aren’t sure how, here’s what Dr. Fleming suggests.
First be aware of these two myths:
The grief-stricken will recover: “It’s the word ‘recover’ that’s problematic,” says Dr. Fleming. “You have to remember that death ends a life. It does not end a relationship. Even if the person isn’t physically present there’s still an ongoing attachment with the deceased. You don’t ‘recover’ from that. You don’t put ‘closure’ on that. The person is still in your thoughts. They’re still a part of your life. So it’s not like the flu. There’s no closing of one door and the opening of another.”
4) Don’t be afraid of the pain: We often do our best to avoid making a grieving friend cry, but “they’re crying on the inside anyway,” as Dr. Fleming puts it. “If you have the courage to stay with the pain during an emotional moment, then they’ll usually feel comforted and very safe, which is important.” Don’t turn away from the pain. Let it happen.
5) Avoid the clichés and pep talks: Sometimes you won’t know what to say to a grieving friend. So just listen. And don’t reach for pat phrases like ‘they’re in a better place now,’ ‘time heals all wounds’ and ‘be strong’. These comments are not helpful.
And when you wonder if your friend will ever feel happy again, perhaps take comfort in what Dr. Fleming calls “the flick of the BIC” (as in the lighter).
“After a profound loss all someone feels is pain and they begin to think this is their new reality. Early on in grief it’s a little like being in a completely black room. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. And then there’s a flick of the BIC. It goes for a split second. That split second it’s on you feel warmth and you catch a glimpse of the room you’re in – and it’s a room that is not familiar to you at all. And then it goes off and it stays off.
“And then it will flick again. You’ll feel light and warmth and you’ll see another part of the room you’re now living in. That dark room is life without the person you loved. The world has changed completely. You may know the house you’re in physically, but you go to bed alone. You wake up alone.”