It is in difficult times that friendship emerges as a brave and valiant saviour. Each one of us wants to the best friend one can possibly have. But in a situation where your friend has lost someone he/she really loved, it can be hard to be the ‘friend’ we want to be. Here are 10 useful tips to console a friend in such a crisis.
Sometimes wordless, physical contact gives more strength than you can possibly imagine. When my grandmother passed away and I was roaming like a lost puppy, my friend came with a stack of Agatha Christies for me take on the train. She just hugged me then, without saying anything, without the “I am so sorry for your loss” etc. Till then, the shock of what had happened was making me speak/act mechanically but at that moment, with that hug, something melted inside me. I just kept muttering “I don’t know what to do, I don’t what to do” and she just whispered “It is okay, it is okay”. Being there without doing or saying anything is more than enough sometimes and hugs deliver that without fail.
2. Be patient and be a good listener
The feelings pent up inside your friend will take some time to come out and it is very much required for them to come out. Your friend will need you the most because it is easier to open up to someone of the same age than an elder. Be ready for stretches of silences. Be ready for some gut-wrenching crying that will squeeze a tear or two from your own eyes. Be ready for intense mood swings. And face all this with utmost patience. Listen to what your friend has to say. Listen to their memories, the misgivings, and the fears of not being able to fill the void inside them. Listen and be genuine about your reactions.
It will be a trying time for you as well but keep your ground. Try not to think of some pending homework you have or some test you haven’t read for. This will make you rush things up and your friend doesn’t want that. Give your friend as much time as they require.
As for that homework? Grab some coffee and prepare for a night out.
3. Empathy as the best approach
While sympathy drives away disconnection, empathy FEELS connection. You need to develop the ability to take the perspective of your friend, recognize their emotion and communicate that. Try to put yourself in their shoes, heaven forbid such a tragedy happens with you but try and try GENUINELY.
When someone you love passes away, it suddenly makes you see the face of life that is as constant as a shadow. The radiance of all the cheer and happiness may have protected you from seeing it till now, but losing someone dims that light out and you see death vividly. Your friend is currently seeing this shadow now and has reclined into a dark hole feeling all alone and singled out.
Climb down this hole for your friend (I mean it metaphorically. Don’t go out climbing down manholes with your friend), don’t say “I know how you must be feeling” if you don’t because that makes you a hypocrite but make them believe that they are not alone. Remember, to be able to empathize is a sign of a good friend.
4. Do NOT sympathize
Sympathizing is in simple terms- driving away disconnection. It is acknowledging the loss without really understanding it.
“How am I expected to understand my friend’s position if I have never been in his/her place!” might be your attitude which is an absolute no-no when it comes to consoling your friend on LOSING someone. Often, extreme sympathizers end up looking like extreme douche bags. Sympathizing is more or less finding a silver lining out of things. It is like, if your friend says “I have lost my mother”, you retort with a sympathetic “At least you still have your father” and that is not exactly how we want the conversation to go isn’t it?
5. Write notes/letters
Giving something out in written feels special to the both the giver and the receiver. It is okay if you feel out of place in your friend’s pain. It is more than natural if you feel helpless sometimes, not knowing what to say or what to do. You might even be at a constant war with yourself thinking whether saying what you meant to say would sound shallow in any way.
Expressing all this through a written word of comfort would definitely help. Tell your friend that you don’t know what to say or do in this moment when he/she is feeling so wretched but you are glad they chose you for sharing it nevertheless. Assure them that your support is unwavering like the northern star. Make them realize that nothing would snatch you away from their side. This feeling would give immense warmth to your friend.
6. Suggest activity and be ‘yourself’
Take your friend for a walk in a quiet place with less traffic. Walks always help. Don’t try to fill silences if your friend does not seem to respond in a way he/she usually does.
Watch a movie, play a video game if your friend is into it, lend books for reading and try to make a light conversation. Introduce new bands depending on his/her taste. Introduce new genres of music too; you never know what might click. Remember that music is a great therapy and your friend will always remember you for some great music suggestions.
Try to work along homework and assignments too. But more than anything, be the person who you really are. Your friend won’t expect you to turn into a martyr in the face of her pain. Keep things moving; that is the first step towards bringing the situation to as normal as possible
7. Accept the differences
Different people show different reactions in the same situation. Sounds extremely common and clichéd right? But facing it in real life can be a little troublesome. Everyone has their own way of mourning and you need to accept and respect this fact. Some people go out of their way to be as out-going as possible while some become even more reclusive. It is their way of hiding or overcoming pain. Respect your friend’s personal space. He/she might not do the thing the way you would do given the same situation. Try not to be judgmental of this fact. Your smugness over some reaction your friend shows in such a time is not what he/she would really need. Accepting each other despite the differences is what friendship is isn’t it?
8. Watch out for signs of depression
Bereavement can and will cause temporary depression but keep an eye for signs that will suggest a permanent turn of things. Is your friend attending school/college normally? Is he/she not eating at all or eating all the time? Are they having trouble sleeping?
Try to find out these things without being pushy. If time is not healing your friend and you find them pondering over death all the time, unable to perform daily chores or talking in an offhand voice about suicide, it is time you seek for extra help. Let the people in the immediate circle of your friend know like an elder sibling or a parent. Suggest medical help.
9. Avoid “He/she was such a great person”
“He/she was such a terrific personality. I mean, everyday I used to see him/her feeding the poor blah blah blah”. Trust me, there is nothing more hypocritical that this. A person hardly knowing the deceased pretending to know every aspect of them is truly horrible.
Don’t be like this for your friend. No matter how well you knew (or you thought you knew) the person in connection to your friend, he/she knew them the best and that’s that. Respect this fact. What you believe to know about the deceased person might just be a public image. Your friend has been into them deeper so don’t try to pretend as if you are well versed with all the aspects you actually have no idea about.
10. Avoid the ‘heaven’ talk
This will only infuriate your friend. Saying that the deceased is in a better place with angels and harps playing in the heaven or enjoying a good ol’ cuppa with others just makes it worse. Of course being in heaven is not your friend’s idea of being in a ‘better place’. Your friend’s definition of a ‘better place’ is obviously going to be that person being alive and being with him/her.
If that person dies after a lot of suffering, do not suggest that it is better that their suffering was put to an end this way. It might be the truth but your friend does not want to face it yet. Let him/her grasp this by themselves. This is a realization they need to come to on their own.
Understand this and for heaven’s sake avoid the heaven talk.