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How to Help a Grieving Friend (Even When They’re Pushing You Away)

Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.

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There’s a scene in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani which touches a chord with me every time I watch it. Bunny, who has been an absentee friend for a long time, offers Adi money to settle his gambling debts and save his soon-to-be-sold-off bar. Adi refuses, saying that money is not what he needs from Bunny – then proceeds to pour them both a drink.

Handing it over to Bunny, he says – do this for me; have a drink with me, that’s all.

Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.
Bunny and Adi’s simple act of friendship touches a chord with me every time. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani)

I may sound like I’m simplifying a complex moment of friendship and expectations, but truthfully – when it comes down to it, this is all one really expects. Not a drink, I mean – although I wouldn’t pass on that either – but just company and togetherness.

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What You Need to Understand About a Grieving Friend

Grieving can be a convoluted process. The loss of somebody important in our lives leaves a huge awning hole inside of us which can sometimes make us reevaluate ourselves and all our important relationships.

When I was grieving my father a few years ago, it was as if I was on a different emotional tangent each new day. I was constantly scared of letting my friends in because I wanted to feel how bereft he had left me, and at the same time I craved human contact. All the tussling between “I do not need you” and “why aren’t you here” can obviously leave any friend confused, but there are certain things a friend can know about their grieving friend:

  • This is a phase, but throughout the sorrow and the heartbreak, there is never a moment they do not need you around.
  • Sometimes they’ll shut you off and sometimes they’ll claw into you.
  • They’re not doing any of this to be difficult, but in the hope that you’ll carry them through just as you always have.
Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.
I was constantly scared of letting my friends in because I wanted to feel how bereft he had left me, and at the same time I craved human contact. (Representative Image; Photo: iStock)

Here’s How You Can Reach Out

As a grieving friend, things can be tough for you. What do I say, what do I not? What do they want to hear? Should I say what’s on my mind or refrain? Should I ask questions or leave them be?

These questions can weigh on your mind and, if not handled correctly, can weigh down your relationship with your friend.

What’s perhaps most important to remember is that your friendship isn’t based on only external events but on who you and your friend are at your very core. So while you do have to be a little more sensitive than usual, what they really require from you is to just continue being yourself. While everything is tumultuously changing inside and outside of them it helps to have someone who is constant in some ways.

Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.
While you do have to be a little more sensitive than usual, what they really require from you is to just continue being yourself. (Photo: iStock)
Do what you’ve always done; be what you’ve always been. Definitely evaluate their moods and at times refrain from making that joke no matter how much you want to say it – but show them that you’re still here.

Sometimes you don’t really know whether it’s okay to talk to them about the incident and the death.

That discomfort is valid; it can be genuinely difficult to see a close friend going through such a hard time. But do remember – that discomfort is not as important as the moment you are giving them. Your friend will be grateful for the fact that you are willing to listen to them and are okay with hearing about it.

It tells them that even if not right now, they can open up to you at a time when they want to talk about it.

Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.
Sometimes you don’t really know whether it’s okay to talk to them about the incident and the death. (Photo: iStock)

Of Harsh Truths Over False Hopes

Some of the words I treasure most today came from friends who didn’t attempt to be falsely conciliatory.

Yes, the urge to console your friend will be strong at all times – but sometimes, just be real with them. A friend once looked me in the eye and said: “It will never be the same and you have to stop wanting it to be.”

It was harsh, very harsh and I kept hoping and thinking she was wrong. But – unknown to me then – it calmed me down. It made me see that I was looking at things from the wrong perspective and what was really weighing me down was the way I was looking at the situation.    

Here’s how to be there for a friend who’s suffered personal loss – even when you’re not sure what to say or do.
You needn’t aim for poignancy or laughter – just showing them your loyalty’s enough! (Photo: iStock)

The thing is, all of us are awkward and helpless – however pure our intentions may be. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that somebody important to you needs you right now.

You needn’t aim for poignancy or laughter – just showing them your loyalty’s enough!

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(Prachi Jain is a psychologist, trainer, optimist, reader and lover of Red Velvets.)

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