Grief can truly be such a lonely experience after you lose a loved one. The loneliness isn’t necessarily because you don’t have anyone around you. It’s because only you had your relationship with the person who died, and it’s hard to find anyone to replace that.
I have first-hand experience. My mom died recently and unexpectedly at the age of 62 and I at the age of 34, and it single-handedly has been one of the most painful experiences of my life. However, having support from family and friends will help you navigate this difficult time. Without it, the loneliness is overwhelming.
If you’re unsure how to help your friend, identify your strengths out of these six types of friends and focus on that area. Your friend doesn’t expect you to be all of these simultaneously. Your friend is just looking for people to show up consistently and intentionally throughout the years as she knows her grief will never truly go away and the pressure of a timeline “to get over it” is overwhelming. Don’t put that on her.
Here are the six types of friends you can be:
The Decision-Maker Friend
This type of friend is decisive and is the kind of friend needed for the immediate days after someone dies. In the aftermath of death, life becomes a whirlwind. It was quite a blur for me. I’m not sure how I functioned. You have to plan a funeral, work out all the logistics, and somehow contend with the fact that someone has died. Your brain can’t handle too many decisions all at once.
The decision-maker friend will take care of things you need without too many questions thrown your way. I had friends who ordered us lunch or dinner and had it delivered to the house where we were all meeting.
These friends take charge of something that needs to be done and delegate it to other people. For example, my best friend and cousin handled the entire slideshow for the funeral. All I had to do was take pictures to a photo shop where they scanned and sent the pictures to her.
The first weeks after a death you relish in someone making decisions for you, taking charge, and doling out advice. Another cousin and best friend sent me pictures of outfits to buy for the funeral and in which stores or malls I could find the outfits. That was perfect and extremely helpful.
As the decision maker, though, be careful that you are not making too personal of decisions on your own. Some decisions, like the obituary, eulogy, and funeral songs are best left to the immediate family.
The decision maker’s role gradually fades away once the funeral and post-death obligations (writing thank-you notes, passing out leftover food from the funeral, helping organize funeral gifts and cards) come to a close.
The Listening Ear Friend
This friend has a really hard and important job. This friend has to witness their friend in a lot of pain, and there is nothing they can do to fix it besides listen and comfort them. They have to be okay with a lot of tears, sorrow, anger, jealousy, and bitterness. They need to allow their friend to just vent.
This friend needs to roll with the punches. One minute you can be laughing and making jokes with your friend and the next minute she’s crying on your shoulder.
Your friend is not looking for a lot of advice. They are just looking for someone they feel safe to let it all out to. I’m very thankful for the friends who check in and let me pour out whatever is on my mind. They don’t try to cheer me up. They don’t make me feel guilty for not always feeling grateful. They validate my feelings. I always feel better after talking to these friends.
The Social Distraction Friend
Your friend cannot think about death all day every day. They need a distraction, and sometimes they need help pulling themselves out of the pits of despair.
This kind of friend should be good at entertaining, keeping the mood light, and having fun. You can plan a girl’s night or a night out. You can come over to their house with a movie, popcorn, and an at-home spa kit.
I had one friend who I met for ice cream. She brought pictures from high school, and we had a good laugh looking through those pictures. I had other friends plan a girls’ weekend complete with massages, facials, and hate-watching The Kissing Booth. It was just what I needed at the time.
This friend should be able to pivot in case something triggers their friend’s sadness or if she isn’t in the mood to do anything anymore.
The Sharer Friend
This type of friend is good at passing things along. For example, this friend comes across a touching quote, a good book on parent loss, or a memory of the lost loved one and then shares it with their friend.
They see a post on Instagram and pass it along. They see a blog on Facebook and share it. They find cute cards and write sweet handwritten notes. They stumble across a children’s book about dealing with death and send it.
These are all thoughtful ways to let their friend know they care and are thinking of her.
The Acts of Service Friend
This friend is all about tackling projects and taking on tasks to lighten the load. My husband is excellent at this. Grief can consume you, and everyday tasks can seem daunting to your friend.
Some ways to help can be providing meals, doing household chores, babysitting your friend’s children, or tackling a project with her. Always ask before taking on a chore. There might be a reason why she hasn’t cleaned up something yet. It could be a reminder of the loved one who died.
The Question Friend
The question friend shows genuine interest without being too intrusive. They ask how their friend is doing day to day. They ask about how the friend might be feeling about something coming up. They ask about the other members of the family. They ask how the support group is going and what is being learned. They ask about signs and dreams from their friend’s loved ones. They follow up with questions when their friend lets them know what has been going on. They don’t ignore it. This friend never pushes and never tries to get more information out of their friend than their friend is willing to give them.
Showing up is one of the biggest parts of life and friendship. By being one of these types of friends you are doing your part.