How to help your friends with their loss (especially if you haven't talked about it in a while)

One thing I know for sure is that grief can be extremely isolating. 

Once the first few months pass, things can get even harder. You don’t have family members around, you’ve gone back to work or school, and (because society has put boundaries around what’s an “appropriate” way to grieve) at some point it feels like you’re “not allowed” to cry anymore. Yeah, you might get texts or calls when the death-iversary pops up on Facebook, but it’s likely that — for a lot of good and bad reasons — people stop getting in touch.

What’s especially hard is that though the death of your loved one was a first, there are a lot of firsts that come up down the line, all of them equally hard, if not harder to deal with. I know that watching my mom die in the ICU was one of the hardest things I’ll ever have to deal with, but having babies without her, getting married without her, and just some random old Tuesdays without her will be much, much harder. 

Another first that we all have to go through is figuring out how to help our friends that are dealing with grief, death, or loss in their lives. And it's hard! It's confusing, it feels touchy and uncomfortable, and sometimes it's really hard to figure out what to say or do, especially if it's been a while since you've talked about it.

I’ve had an incredible support network of family and friends that do a lot to take care of me. I can only hope that when my partner goes through what I’ve been through, that I will be able to support him as well as he’s supported me. And I hope that my friends in the Dead Moms Club continue to lean on me for support like I’ve leaned on them. 

So in honour of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coming up in the next few months (and all the shitty, hard days in between, before, and after), here are a few notes on how you can take care of the people around you that are grieving. Though this might not be appropriate for every grieving person in your life (some people just want to be left the f alone, or want to reach out to you instead), if you’re getting a read that your friend might need some help, consider these options.

Have them over.

When my mom first died, it meant a lot that people were willing to hang with me. Not just to cry or listen to my frustrations. But sometimes just to get drunk, eat dinner, and be “normal”. Over a year later, it means a lot when people know an anniversary is coming up or that you’re probably just feeling a little lonely, and they invite me chill. 

If you do this for a friend and end up talking about their loss, great! They probably needed it. If you don’t, also great! They got a moment to be around someone that they love, who loves them, and who just wants to drink a little wine and be real.

Bring it up "out of the blue".

People seem to think that it’d be hard af to have someone remind you of your dead mom or dead friend or dead grandparent. And sometimes it is (I broke down in tears the first time I met someone who spelled her name the same way my mom did). But to be honest, there’s probably not a day, week, or month that goes by that your friend isn’t thinking about that person just a little bit. And if they’re thinking about them often — constantly missing them, constantly trying to keep their memory alive — it can be lonely alone in their head.

Sometimes I get messages from friends about their memories with my mom, or my boyfriend points out some funny thing that I do that I inherited from my mom, or friends will ask me how I’m doing because they know a certain time of year is hard. It doesn’t have to be a “Let’s sit down and talk about your loss because we haven’t in a while”, but the short text messages that I get out of the blue make just as much of a difference. Send them an article (I love this), a book you found about unique perspectives on grief, or a card that simply says, “Yo, I’m thinking of you” because you are and that’s amazing.

Ask about other people in their family. 

One thing I appreciate more than anything is when friends ask me about how the rest of my family is doing. It means the world to me when someone knows that not only am I grieving, but that I’m surrounded by grieving people who also need support. And that most likely, I’m taking care of myself and that person! 

When I hear from someone asking how my dad is, or someone reminds me that Motehr’s Day would be hard for my grandma too (seeing as she was my mom’s mom), I appreciate that they’re making an effort to think beyond me and my stress or grief during hard times. 

Help them celebrate.

As we get older, it’s just as important to remember birthdays as it is to remember death-related anniversaries. After my mom died, the first time I celebrated my birthday was on a trip to Paris she’d booked me and my partner months before she died. Yeah, Paris is cool. No, it was not easy taking a trip she’d booked and celebrating my birthday without calling her.

Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to make these days “easier” or at least memorable and meaningful. If your friend can, maybe they’ll take the day off of work or school to prioritize their mental health, and if they do, consider helping them celebrate, commemorate, or just commiserate. Take them for a walk (I do this somewhere “in nature” on both my mom’s birthday and the anniversary of the day she died, because holy moly did she love birds and lakes), take them to the gravesite, or plan something fun like a yearly "hot dogs and bourbon day" — completely unrelated, but something fun and distracting that they know they’ll do with you every year because you care

And just to note, here are a few times or dates throughout the year that might be particularly hard for your friend or family member:

  1. January 1 - December 31, 20forever (okay, I know… but I had to say it)

  2. Birthdays (both the deceased as well as their own)

  3. A death-iversary (the day someone died or the day of their funeral / memorial)

  4. Wedding or relationship anniversaries

  5. Valentine’s Day

  6. Mother’s Day or Father’s Day

  7. The holidays (pretty much October - January can be a nightmare)

It means a lot that you’re considering how to help, so from me to you, here’s a huge pat on the back and hug from me. It’s people like you that make the days easier and the isolation less of a reality.

Photo by Lukas Neasi on Unsplash