How to Support a Friend Who Has Lost a Loved One

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It is never easy for someone who has lost a member of the family, even when it comes at the end of a long life or a prolonged illness. The loss is always deeply felt and accompanied by a time of sadness. Considering this, how can you help support a friend who has suffered such a loss? Here are six simple suggestions.

1. Be there for your friend.
Expressing your support by being physically present with your friend is perhaps the single most appreciated action you can take. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, many friends fail at this most basic task. Be sure to devote some time to spend with your friend in the days and weeks following the loss.

2. Don't talk; listen.
Your friend is likely experiencing a number of thoughts regarding the deceased, and you can provide a sounding board. It is appropriate for you to offer the occasional comment in order to share personal recollections, express sympathy, and provide encouragement, but most of the time you should just remain silent. Allow your friend to work through volatile emotions, freely express grief without the fear of judgment, and tell you how the deceased had an impact on his or her life.

3. Provide childcare.
If your friend has children, volunteer to take care of them for an afternoon or evening. Particularly if your friend has to make funeral arrangements or is expected to be at the funeral home for designated visiting hours, your offer can allow him or her to focus on those responsibilities without the hassle of arranging for a babysitter.

4. Drop off a meal.
Prepare a home cooked meal and deliver it to your friend. There are enough things demanding his or her attention; preparing meals doesn't have to be one of them. However, do not pressure your friend to invite you to stay to share the meal. Rather than intruding on family time, simply drop the meal off and leave.

5. Show up for visitation and for the funeral.
A day or two prior to most funerals, there are times designated for visitation. Often called a wake, this is an opportunity for people to gather to view the body and to express their condolences to the family. Show up for at least a few minutes during one of these times, and then do your best to attend the funeral itself. If your friend must travel for the funeral (making it impossible for you to be there in person), at least check in periodically over the phone or online.

6. Offer to help out with the reception.
If your friend is responsible for organizing a reception following the funeral, volunteer your services. There are a variety of ways you can help out. For instance, you can offer your home as a possible location. You could also help with preparations if the reception is to be held at another location. If sandwiches or sweets are desired, you could offer to prepare some. During the reception, you could assist as a host or hostess. Afterward, stick around to help clean up.

Allow your friend to feel free to relax and show honest emotions. Losing a loved one can be an intensely stressful and exhausting experience. Your friend should not have to put on a brave face or attend to your needs. Give the space and freedom needed for your friend to process the loss, even if it requires time well beyond the date of the funeral. By being sensitive to your friend's mental and emotional state—and by taking some responsibilities upon yourself—you can help remove some of the weight from his or her shoulders. Your support in these ways will go a long way toward helping your friend through this time of loss.