What should you say to a friend who is grieving the loss of a parent?

How to support a friend grieving the loss of a parent.
How to support a friend grieving the loss of a parent. Photo: Shutterstock

As we all get older, grief becomes more present in our life.

It's not uncommon for a friend to lose a parent and while you want to be there for them, it can be hard to know what to do and say.

While baking lasagne could seem like the best idea, honestly, there are only so many lasagnes one person can eat.

The grief process

For Fleur Brown, who writes about her experience, losing her mum was unexpected.

"From start to the finish of her illness it was only two and a half months - but so much went on emotionally for me it felt like years," Ms Brown said.

"The biggest thing was the shock.?So the whole thing felt like a bad joke - very surreal - and the grieving process was a harsh mix of my mind catching up to the reality of what had just happened whilst my heart was breaking."

As she has found, out the grief process was layered and complex.

"It's definitely a layered process and it takes the time it takes - you can't rush it. Each stage surprises you," she said.

"In talking to many others who have lost a close family member (or are in the process of losing one) it doesn't seem to matter how someone passes - randomly or suddenly or over time.??

Advertisement

"It's equally painful, just in different ways - with different impacts."??

Recognise the loss

What she didn't want to hear were other people's 'war stories' and found people often assumed she didn't want to talk about the death of her mum –when the opposite was true.

"Understand that losing a parent never stops hurting, even if you and they are older, the impact is immense," she said.

"Just acknowledging and allowing you the space to talk. Recognising the loss - not brushing over it. And not making you feel like a victim, just a human being who has experienced loss."

Judythe Barrett-Croxford's worked in the funeral industry for more than a decade and has helped thousands of families navigate death.

"The grieving process is complex and so very different for each person. We all grieve in different ways," Ms Barrett-Croxford said.

Quite often our first reaction when someone loses a loved one is to try and make them feel better, but that isn't possible.

"Saying anything to a person who has lost a loved one is difficult," she said. "I believe the best way to help is to assure your friend that you're there for them, don't try and look for words to console them, speak honestly.

Being supportive and caring and letting them know you're a phone call away and sincerely mean it.

"Often I say after the service that while we will all go back to our lives, make sure you keep in touch with friends as we all grieve in different ways and in varying time frames."

Listen and give practical help

Counselling psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip said the death of a parent impacts everyone differently.

"When a friend loses someone close they will pass through a range of emotions as they process the loss," Dr Phillip said.

"Early on they may prefer to be more with family members who are also experiencing the same loss. As a friend, after their loss, you can bring food, clean their house, wash their clothes and generally tidy up. It is these basic jobs many struggle with when processing the loss of a parent initially."

Being there to listen and help in practical ways is important.

"Help by being there, listening, holding and empathising," she said.

"It can be an incredibly tough time, especially if unprepared. They may need support in arranging the funeral, flowers and the wake. Welcome them to cry, talk about the memories, laugh about the fun and good times."

And remember as time goes on, grief is still present for your friend.

"As the weeks progress, keep in regular touch with your friend. The first year is the toughest as they endure the difficult 'firsts'," she said.

"Your friend may also feel like picking up the phone to call their parent when something occurs which then becomes a quick reminder they are gone and unreachable. Be their contact person.

"As time proceeds, make sure you invite your friend's parent's name into conversations. This will help to keep them alive."

She suggests some simple things you should and shouldn't do when a friend is grieving:

Do

  • ?Reach out immediately even if they're not ready to talk.
  • Listen and empathise.
  • Acknowledge their distress.
  • ?Speak sensitively.
  • Proactively do things you think or see need doing eg: cooking,
  • cleaning, mowing and babysitting.
  • After a little time take them out somewhere fun with laughter.
  • Check in often.

Don't

  • Dramatise the loss.
  • Place information on social media.
  • Tell them they'll get over it.
  • Compare them to anyone else who is or has gone through similar grief.
  • Avoid them.
  • ?Ever say it was God's plan, keep your faith to yourself.
  • Judge their reaction or grieving - we are all different.