I have a friend who is really struggling. A close friend of hers died recently and the loss was very unexpected. Understandably, she is having a hard time moving forward. She seems unhappy and lacks motivation. She also doesn’t seem to want to do things like she used to. Her appetite is gone and she tells me that she doesn’t sleep much. I don’t know how to help her. So far I just listen. Is it wrong to sometimes just try to distract her and drag her to events in hopes of making her laugh? I would love ideas on how to help her move forward, but I know it will be awhile.
Signed, Sorry for her Loss
Loss is loss. There is no specific answer because everyone’s experience of loss is different. Although we know there have been books written on the subject, there is no one way to deal with loss. Part of this is because loss from death can be different; it can be the result of a long illness, an accident, a suicide, etc. The age of the person has an impact as well as the type of relationship that we have with the person that passed away. It may be someone we have known for years or someone that we just got to know. If the relationship with the person was strained it will likely complicate the grief process. Loss also tends to trigger other past losses which sometimes makes it more difficult.
When I searched the definition of “loss” my favorite meaning from Webster stated that loss is “the state or feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value.” Your friend lost something of value and there is likely an emptiness that cannot be replaced. First off, don’t try to replace it. That is a mistake our society makes all too often. Instead, just show up and be ready to acknowledge it and talk about it. That is the best you can do. Remember that your actions don’t have to be grandiose, they just have to be authentic and intended with love.
One of my favorite movies is Disney’s “Inside Out” (I think I’ve mentioned this before). My kids give me a hard time because out of all of the funny parts of this movie, my favorite scene is when the character Joy tries to make Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, happy when he and Riley’s rocket gets pushed into the dump. All he really needs is someone to be with him in his despair. Step in, Sadness. She just shows up and listens to his story and sits with him in his grief. It’s confusing to Joy who is an expert at making people smile. It’s a turning point in the movie, however, because it was that very action that helped Bing Bong move forward. That is a lesson in helping someone who is grieving; empathy.
This is not to say that you can’t ever drag your friend out so that she has a distraction from the pain, it just means that you need to tread lightly, be respectful of where she is in the moment, and be attentive to what she tells you she needs. With that being said, you should know that what you are seeing with your friend is normal. It is common to have changes in appetite and sleep patterns when one is grieving. It is also not surprising that she is not as interested or motivated to engage in activities that used to bring her joy. This is likely temporary; these are normal feelings resulting from an abnormal situation. Be patient with her, but don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. It just shows you care.
The dance of walking through suffering with someone is one of the most intimate experiences that two people can share. It takes patience and courage and a vulnerability that isn’t present in other relationships to the same extent. Not being afraid to acknowledge someone else’s pain means to be brave and unselfish. It means that you are saying “it matters” and “you are not alone in your grief”. It can be exhausting, but it illustrates the bond of true friendship.