A few weeks ago I gave you guys a list of topics to blog about and asked you guys which one you wanted me to cover first and the most popular one was about being there for a friend who is grieving or going through a hard time. Now I want to be clear, I am not an expert, but if you have been following my blog this past year, you know that my family has walked a long road as my Papa was first diagnosed with cancer and then passed away at the end of March. What I am going to be sharing here is things that good friends of mine have done and how my community has rallied around me that have been helpful. Obviously, everyone handles grief differently and in the end you know your friend, the most important thing you can do is to not let them walk the path alone. That may look differently for different friendships, but what matters is that you are there for them.
Anytime your friend goes through a hard time, it is always going to be preceded by some form of crisis mode. Crisis Mode is generally early on when whatever tragedy your friend is dealing with happens. It generally does not last for long, but I have learned that it can be experienced multiple times as a situation goes from bad to worse. In my case the original crisis mode lasted just a few days, but there were many smaller crisis modes as things continued to fall apart as my grandpa’s cancer began to draw closer to the end.
The first thing I recommend doing when your friend is in crisis mode is be there. All I wanted when we received the diagnosis was someone to give me a big hug. I needed a safe place to cry. However, there are moments when this is not a good idea. I have several friends who live out of town and they all offered to come be with me when we got the diagnosis but I begged them not to come because the thought of having to take care of more people was more than I could handle. If your friend is out of state, the best way to be there is by text and phone call, only come in town if your friend says it is okay or you are willing to get a hotel.
Your friend is going to cry a lot and be struggling as their whole world has been turned upside down, resist the urge to say, “It is going to be okay.” I know that you want it to all turn out good, and maybe it will, but you can’t promise them that and this will do more to alienate you than draw you closer together.
Text and call your friend often checking in to see how they are doing but be okay if they don’t respond. One of the best things one of my good friends did for me that lives out of state is texting me nearly everyday to tell me she was praying for me and checking in to see how I was doing. What made this a blessing and kept it from overwhelming me is that she would always say in the text message to only reply if I felt like it but to know she was always there. This gave me permission to not reply if I didn’t have the energy but let me know that I was thought of and prayed over.
Set an alarm on your phone to go off everyday at a certain time reminding you to pray for your friend and let them know you have done this. A girl I knew but wasn’t very close to did this. Shortly after my grandpa’s diagnosis she texted me to let me know she had set an alarm everyday for 4:00 and she would be praying for me then. Everyday as I got off work and saw the time I knew she was praying for me as I returned home to the battles waiting and it helped give me strength.
Bring food. Whatever you do, don’t ask if your friend needs food, just bring it. Don’t stay long unless they want you to, but trust me, your friend is needing food and having to leave to go get food is the last thing they want to do or is on their mind. I can’t tell you how many times I stayed late at the hospital and by time I left all the restaurants were closed and there was no food at home because we hadn’t been home to cook so I’d just skip dinner. When your loved one is sick or dying you don’t want to leave their side even for food, so be the hero and bring food for your friend. Towards the end my grandma (from the other side of the family) came over and brought food for my family so we wouldn’t have to leave and we were able to keep it in the freezer pulling it out as needed. That was a lifesaver for us and the reason we were able to be there at the end instead of worrying about food.
Listen. Your friend is going to have a lot of emotions ranging from sadness to anger and occasionally just wanting to pretend it isn’t happening. Listen to them. They don’t need you to fix their problems, they just need to know that someone is there and they’re not in this alone. I had one friend in particular that every Sunday at church would come up to me and start out by asking me, “how are you holding up.” She knew I wasn’t doing good, but she needed to know where I was emotionally. If I didn’t want to talk she always respected it, but if I needed to she was always available.
Most importantly, pray for your friend. You can’t change what is happening in their life or even heal their broken heart, but you have access to the one who is in control over everything and the mender of broken hearts.
Don’t forget them after some time has passed. It has been two and a half months and I still have days that I am struggling. Grief comes in waves, one day your friend might be fine and the next falling apart. That is actually what happened to me this past weekend, Saturday I went and watched fireworks with friends and had so much fun laughing and being totally alive. Sunday though found me crying and struggling as if I had just lost Papa that day. Sometimes if your friend is having a really good day you may want to check in on them the next day as the lows are even harder after they have spent some time laughing and feeling “normal” for a few hours. Grief, especially after losing someone, doesn’t have a time period for when it ends, it will look different for each person and your friend needs you to be there and not be left alone.
I hope that this was helpful and now the next time a friend is going through a hard time you won’t feel so helpless not knowing how to help them. Don’t forget, it is always okay to just ask your friend what they need. Most of the time they will be able to tell you if they need to talk or for the moment forget, and if they don’t know be willing to just sit and be quiet until they do know. Remember, you’re their friend and they need you during this time just as much as you want to be there for them. It is messy and hard, but your friendship will come out stronger after walking this together.