Grief is complicated. It’s one of the most difficult emotions to process, as feelings of loss mingle with gratitude for the time we were able to spend with our loved ones.
We never want to think about losing someone we love, but death is a natural part of life, and inevitably we all experience loss. Just as we lean on our family and friends in times of strife, we want to be there for the people we care about when they lose a loved one or pet.
Our support is the best way to show we care, and there are many ways to comfort our grieving friends and family members.
What Is Grief?
In simple terms, grief is the pain that is associated with loss. While the definition may be simple, the experience is not. Grief is attached to love—love for our friends, our family members, our pets, and the other remarkable lives that have shaped us into who we are today.
Relationships, whether platonic or romantic, are integral to human development and our overall quality of life. When we lose a person so close to us, it may seem as though the world is crumbling beneath us. While we will one day be able to celebrate these special people and their impacts on our world, we first have to process the complex sorrow that accompanies their passing.
What Feelings Are Associated With Grief?
To begin to better understand grief, it is important to know the complicated feelings that may arise as you navigate your emotions. Though not applicable for all people that experience loss, these common emotional responses can help you better understand what your friend may be going through.
Repressed or Numb Emotions
Your loved one may seem unfazed at first. In order to protect ourselves from the reality of our grief, the brain can enter a state of denial or bargaining. By ignoring their feelings or believing that they can somehow alter reality, they can temporarily avoid their sadness. Eventually, this numbness can lead to an overwhelming rush of emotions.
If a friend is suppressing their emotions, give them the space to navigate their mental state, and be a listening ear.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, grief can give way to especially intense emotional responses. We may feel deeply angry about the death of our loved ones, trying to place blame on a higher power or an external force to make sense of our loss.
Instead of trying to reason away a friend’s rage, create a judgment-free space where your friend can express whatever they’re feeling. Eventually, that anger will subside, and it’s important to support our friends throughout the process.
Intense emotions may also appear as depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of moroseness, numbness, eating and sleeping too much or too little, and loss of interest in activities or hobbies that the person usually enjoys.
If your friend enters a period of depression as a result of their loss, become a steady reminder of the love and support they still have in this world. Don’t try to force them to feign happiness—their emotions are valid!
They will heal in their own time. However, grief counseling and therapy can be helpful tools during a depressive episode. While your support and love are extremely valuable, some situations should be navigated with the help of trained professionals.
Eventually, your loved one will be able to process their grief without extreme emotional peaks and valleys. Although they might have moved beyond their immediate coping mechanisms and shock, this does not mean they are no longer in mourning.
It is important to know and remember that grief is not a linear process nor is it the same exact experience for every person. As we come to terms with our sorrow, we still experience pain and sadness, even if we’re once again able to experience joy and healing.
Supporting a grieving loved one is a lifelong commitment to celebrating the remarkable people who enter our lives while acknowledging the heartbreak of their loss.
We all have different ways of processing and coping with emotions and life experiences, so take this into account when your friend is dealing with grief. Practice patience and maintain the space that you created for your friend to feel and say whatever they need.
Assessing the Relationship
Each relationship is unique, as is the healing process when we lose those relationships. Now that we have a general understanding of grief’s many emotions, we can assess the individual relationship your friend had with their loved one. This will help us determine the best ways to provide comfort during this difficult time.
Questions we can ask ourselves include:
- Was their relationship with a parent, sibling, family member, pet, or significant other?
- What kind of relationship did they hold with this individual? Were they close or estranged? Were they part of their everyday lives?
- What did this relationship provide for your friend?
Knowing the general relationship dynamic between your friend and their lost loved one will help us better understand their feelings. Knowing the dynamic will also give us the guidance we need to support our friends through their experiences with grief.
Asking our friends questions about their loved ones can also help support their journey towards healing. It can be difficult to talk about loved ones who have passed, but reminiscing on their unique contributions to our lives can help us celebrate their remarkable stories.
Be sure to take precautions when talking to your friend about their lost loved ones so that you do not overstep any boundaries. Ask them whether they are in a place to share with you, and give them the time they need to have the strength to talk about how they are feeling.
Speak the Same Language
Just like we all have different ways of processing emotions, we each have different communication styles. One way to improve communication between ourselves and our friends is knowing what their love languages are.
A love language is how we give and receive love. Paying attention to how our friends receive love is a crucial tool that will help us be strong sources of support.
The five love languages are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and receiving gifts.
Some people feel loved when they receive a hug or when they sit in close proximity to a loved one. Physical touch can be an important form of intimacy between two people, but some people like their personal space.
Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation refer to someone verbally expressing how they feel towards someone they love. Some people love receiving affirming notes, texts, or just hearing from someone they love about how great they are. Others are uncomfortable accepting compliments or works of affection.
Quality time refers to spending time with your loved one. If your friend’s love language is quality time, spend time with them doing activities they enjoy. However, they may just need someone to sit with them in their grief and pain, or they may prefer to process their emotions alone.
Acts of Service
For some, actions go further than words. If your friend’s love language is an act of service, doing simple household chores or cooking them a meal will help give them the space to grieve without having to think about all of their responsibilities.
Small and large gifts can communicate to some people that they are deeply loved. If your friend likes to receive gifts, maybe gift them with a t-shirt with their favorite band’s logo. If you are artistic, you can give them a piece made specifically for them. You can also gift them something to help them process their grief or celebrate their loved one’s life, like a diamond from Eterneva.
It is important to note that some people have multiple love languages. Thinking back on fond memories with your friend of activities you did together or gifts you gave to them will help you learn how they best receive love, and in turn, they will feel more supported.
No Right Answers
Because grief is so complex and experienced differently by everyone, there is no right answer on how to say sorry to your friend when they have lost someone that they love. However, by learning about grief, the relationship dynamic between your friend and their lost loved one, and how they receive love, you can effectively provide support through your actions.