Supporting a grieving friend: preparing for courageous conversations
It takes courage to reach out to a grieving friend. We’ve prepared some steps to help you prepare.
The step-by-step guide to preparing for courageous conversations
When people experience grief and loss they often find themselves swamped by caring friends and family at first, only to find those closest to them have backed away after a few weeks. Soon their friends stop calling, texting, or dropping in, people cross the road to avoid them, invitations to social events stop coming, and work colleagues move on. Leaving the bereaved to shoulder their grief on their own.
Understandably, humans are fearful of discussing grief. We’re scared to say the wrong thing and further upset the grieving person. And knowing we can’t bring the loved one back nor recover what’s been lost makes approaching the subject too daunting. To make matters worse, the thought of death-related loss often raises fears around our mortality.
However, evidence shows that social support is key to coping with grief. So, if we genuinely value and care for our friends, it’s important to muster up the courage for conversation… your bravery will pay off.
The purpose of courageous conversations is to validate your friend’s grief experience, show them they are valued, and support them to develop coping abilities.
First, ask yourself if you’re the right person for the job…
- Do they want your help?
- Do they feel liked, accepted, respected, and not judged by you?
- Do they see you as being on equal terms with them?
- Can they rely on you to be trustworthy and respectful of their privacy?
Second, assess your skills set…can you offer:
- Empathetic emotional support that is gentle, considerate, and understanding
- Conversational skills to help them clarify their thoughts
- Practical assistance to aid problem solving
Third, put effort into preparation
- Educate yourself about grief reactions and experiences
- Have a good understanding of your friend’s situation
- Be prepared for the challenges of providing support
- Know when professional help should be sought
- Ensure you are personally supported and encouraged to offer this support
Fourth, be prepared for all kinds of reactions
Once you appreciate that everybody’s grief is unique, it’s easier to be sensitive to their response. They may shut you down, break down in tears, appear frustrated or dismissive. Try not to take it personally – a grieving person can have trouble regulating their emotions. Sometimes they’ll react strongly, only to open up later when they feel ready to talk. If they turn you down, keep checking in.
Fifth, accept that not everyone will feel comfortable opening up to you about their grief
Don’t take it to heart – there is a myriad of reasons for this. They might feel more comfortable with you providing a different type of support like organising social activities or helping out with practical assistance (see Part 2 of this article).
Recap: how courageous do I need to be?
- Brave enough to witness their grief
- Resilient enough to withstand extreme emotions
- Industrious enough to get things done if they ask for it
- Loyal enough to stick around for the long haul
Now you’re all set to go, the next step is to take a look at our step-by-step guide to having courageous conversations.
Our reference text:
Dyregrov, K., & Dyregrov, A. (2008). Effective grief and bereavement support the role of family, friends, colleagues, schools and support professionals . Jessica Kingsley Publishers.