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What Should I Not Say to My Grieving Best Friend?

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Dear Crossroads,

I’m not writing to you to help with my own grief, but rather that of my best friend. Her mother has been battling cancer for a while now and has just recently passed away. Since she’s been diagnosed, my best friend has become guarded and pretty depressed. I’m worried that she will become even more depressed and closed off now that her mother is gone. I knew this day would eventually come and I’ve been trying to help her cope as best as I can — but I can’t help feeling like I’m walking on eggshells when I try to console her.

It’s not so much what I should say, but what I shouldn’t say that worries me. The few times that I have brought it up, she’s reacted angrily and said she wasn’t ready to talk about it. The last thing I want to do is offend or upset her during this difficult time. I want her to know that I am here for her but don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing. Do you have any advice on how to navigate this?

Sincerely,
Empathetic Friend

 

Dear Empathetic Friend,

Thank you for reaching out. It’s admirable of you to want to be so involved in your best friend’s coping during such a difficult time in her life. Please know that you actively being there for her is a great first step. Your presence in itself is very helpful. But instead of focusing on what you should and shouldn’t say, try to make listening your first priority.

Be the person she can reach out to without hesitation when she needs to vent. Creating a safe space for her is the most important part of this coping process. If you focus more on how to be a good listener rather than how to create good enough responses, your friend is likely to feel much more understood and comforted.

When she does decide to open up and talk to you, be sure to give her all your attention and limit distractions. Active listening is simple but can feel difficult when you really want to jump in and offer your help. Try not to interrupt or offer advice unless she specifically asks for it. Pay attention to non-verbal forms of communication like facial expressions, tone of voice, and general body language to see if she becomes uncomfortable with the conversation at any point.

If you’re still concerned about what specific phrases you should avoid, I’d suggest you try not to default to clichés such as “she’s in a better place” or “she’s no longer suffering.” Some people may find these types of sayings to be ingenuine and unhelpful. While others may actually want to hear something like this, there are many more generally acceptable alternatives.

Instead, try to express your true feelings and meaningful responses. Try offering “I’m always just a phone call away” or asking “is there anything I could do for you?”  Letting your best friend know that you are there for her will show that you are actually listening. Even openly admitting to the fact that you don’t know what to say will help her understand that you’re struggling, but want to find a way to help. In the case of your friend not often wanting to discuss, simply physically being there next to her may be the type of comfort she’s looking for.

I’d also suggest asking your friend to tell you stories about her mother — or even offer your own stories if you knew her — to encourage a heartwarming conversation in her mother’s honor. This will bring a sense of comfort so long as you use genuine words and heartfelt memories. No matter how you specifically approach this situation, simply being yourself and showing your sincerity is the best way to support her during this time.

Sincerely,

David Stevenson
Bereavement Coordinator

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care

 

For more information on how Crossroads supports patients and their families, give us a call at 888-564-3405

 

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