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The Awkwardness of grief: How to comfort a friend

Beautiful Southern California evening
Beautiful Southern California evening
photo by Maria Fraire

I lost a best friend and my father within months apart. During this time I felt very lonely in my grief. Friends called and expressed their sympathy through words that seemed almost robotic and hesitant, others sent cards and flowers with scribbled sentiments that meant little. But what I really needed was someone who would put aside formalities, a friend who would come over to sit and talk with me, cry with me, share my grief.

We often think that the grieving friend is surrounded by loved ones, but truth is that those loved ones are grieving as well and can provide little solace or comfort. Too often we make the quick and awkward call expressing our sympathies and make a point to attend the services and the funeral. This seems to be the acceptable and even expected behavior, but to the friend grieving it provides little comfort.

At first I felt as though these friends had failed me, or just didn't care enough to lend a shoulder to cry on, but with the passing of time I realized that what keeps people at bay is not a lack of caring or concern, but not knowing how to handle the awkwardness of grief itself.

I can say this now that I've been on the opposite side of this sad chapter in my life. Now I know that when someone looses a loved one, isolation is rarely the solution. Seclusion brings too much time to think, and pain pierces our hearts with undeniable accuracy. The company of an understanding friend soothes our suffering, a sympathetic ear is often the much-needed consolation a weary and sad heart needs.

But what I've discovered is that fear and uncertainty often hinders all of our natural instincts to comfort. I know that next time a friend is experiencing such a sad part of life, I will make myself available. I won't ask; “What can I do?” or say; “Let me know if there’s anything you need.” Quite the opposite, I will be the friend at hand, present, respecting the grief, and gently saying, “I'm here for you.”

So remember:

· Don’t wait for an invitation to show up at her door
· There is no fixable solution, don’t try to ‘fix’ her pain, grieve with your friend
· Stay by her side, help her through the agony
· Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased
· Recall fond memories, things they did or say, it’s ok.



  • Becky, Cleve. Family Examiner 5 years ago

    It is very hard to comfort someone because we just don't know what to do. These are very good tips to keep in mind.

  • Michelle 5 years ago

    Wow ... perfect timing ... a dear friend just loss her Mom ... I am guilty of the "Let me know what I can do." statement ... which is said with sincerest of intentions, but good to be reminded that sometimes just "showing up" is the right thing to do. : ) Thanks Maria!

  • Yvette 5 years ago

    Mari, I loved your article. It brought back lots of memories of when my father passed away 5 years ago this past April 27th. It is such a painful experience to go through. The many well intended prayers and thoughts from friends and acquaintances do mean a lot and help ease the pain. But,like you say, sometimes just a simple " I'm here" is all that is needed at the moment. What I found out from that experience though is that, actions speak louder than words. In hard and sad times we find out who our friends truly are. Keep up the good work my friend

  • carrie 5 years ago

    I think this is very good advice. I am so fortunate to have not lost someone very close to me. So I may be one to feel uncomfortable and awkward in these situations. However, im also one to feel others pain with them, and so I hope I would be one of the "present"ones for a friend. I also think its important to respect each individuals manner of grieving. Some personalities are more introverted and need more alone time. Its important to let our friends know when we need to be alone or need to talk. Thanks Maria

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