Dear Annie… What to say
Dear Annie: A close friend’s father died suddenly two months ago, and she’s been distant ever since. We’re relatively young, and this is my first experience having a close friend lose a parent. I’m not sure what to say to her.
I hate seeing her in pain. I’ve tried to tell her that she’s strong, but she shrugs it off. What do you say to offer encouragement to someone who’s mourning?
Dear Tongue-Tied: The pressure’s off: There are no magic words you could say to take your friend’s pain away. When it comes to supporting someone who is grieving, it’s not about what you say but how you listen.
The following tips come courtesy of psychotherapist and grief advocate Megan Devine, author of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.”
“How to Help a Grieving Friend”
Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Your steadiness of presence is the absolute best thing you can give.
Don’t compare griefs. No one else has experienced their grief.
Do ask questions. You can connect by showing curiosity about their experience.
Don’t fact check or correct. Especially in early grief, facts and timelines can be confused.
Do respect their experience. It’s not important who’s “more” correct.
Don’t minimize. Even if you might think their grief is out of proportion to the situation.
Do remember this grief is theirs. Grief belongs to the griever. Your opinions are irrelevant.
Don’t give compliments. When someone is in pain, they don’t need to be reminded how wonderful they are.
Do trust your friend. All the things you love about the person will help them through this experience.
Don’t be a cheerleader. When things are dark, it’s OK to be dark.
Do mirror their reality. When they say, “This sucks,” say, “Yes, it does.”
Don’t talk about “later.” Right now, in this present moment, that future is irrelevant.
Do stay in the present moment. Or if the person is talking about the past, join them there.
Don’t evangelize. When something has worked for you, it’s tempting to prescribe it for others.
Do trust their self-care. They know themselves best. What works for you may not be for them.
Don’t start with solutions. In most cases, people need to feel heard, not be “fixed.”
Do get consent before you offer advice or strategies.
Show up. Listen. Don’t Fix.
For more information on helping a grieving loved one, visit https://www.refugeingrief.com.
Dear Annie: As I read the letter from “Never Enough,” I could not help but feel that the writer has a pretty good life and has not experienced any losses through illness or death. When you lose a spouse, a child or a parent, you appreciate what you have even more. It is very humbling.
“Never Enough” might benefit from doing some volunteer work helping others less fortunate. It will open his eyes to what he has. Life is just not about material things.
I am a firm believer in counseling and am happy he is seeking help. I hope that he will be given the tools to find what he feels is missing in his life. There is always a rainbow after every storm. But if you don’t look for it, you won’t see it. Life is good, and I am loving it.
— P. Grant in Prescott, Arizona
Dear P. Grant: Well said. I’m happy to print your letter, not just for “Never Enough” but also for all of us who are in positions to volunteer or give back to our communities.
— “Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.