How to help a friend through grief

NARDY asks: My best friend is sad because her father died. She is always upset and when I speak to my other friends she always asks me to stay with her. I’m trying to make her happy, but I can’t. What can I do?




My friend, you’re dealing with one of the toughest issues there is.  Actually you’re dealing with two.


Grief is always difficult, and everybody has to go through it.  There are small griefs (like when an ice cream cone falls on the ground before you can eat it), and really painful ones (like when someone you’re dating breaks up with you), and then there are those griefs that are so awful they change your entire way of living and seeing the world.  This is what your friend is suffering right now.  When a close family member or loved one dies, everything that was true is just not true anymore.


Now that would be bad enough if it were another family member, but this is also your friend’s father.  And kids usually see their dad as their greatest protector.  Even though parental roles have changed a lot in the last 50 years, dads are still seen as the providers, the fighters, the strong ones.  And your friend just lost all that, all at once.  So she’s not only grieving; she’s probably really scared!


The good news is that her action shows you to be a trustworthy, fine person.  But you know that you can’t fill all the shoes of her father, or even come close.  So this is a really hard situation.


I would suggest that, first, you try to give in to her requests whenever it’s convenient.  The poor girl needs the security that you offer, and as long as it’s not a problem for you, why not keep being great.


Second, though, you need to help her get more trusting and stronger.  So if you’re talking with other friends when she wants you, pull her in and try to get her to enjoy the group.  And at times when you need to be away from her, encourage her to reach out to other people who you know she can also trust.


Third, though, if she’s not already doing it, I strongly recommend that she and her family get some therapy, to help get through this awful time.  Often it’s best for the whole family to see a therapist at once, since the biggest change in her father’s passing is to the family itself.


If those three things can happen – you being a great supporter and comforter, you helping her trust and find strength elsewhere, and them getting counseling – she should be able to work through her grief as quickly as possible, and begin to live a full life again.


It will never be the same, of course.  She’ll always miss her father, and wish he were still there.  But somehow nearly all people find ways to build good and enjoyable lives, even with that big hole inside them.


Which reminds me, that other thing you said:  about not being able to make her happy?  No, you can’t.  No one can.  Eventually she’ll be able to feel happiness again, but not right now.  So don’t look for happiness in her yet.  Just know that you’re being the best thing possible, and what she needs most.


Thanks, and thanks for being a great friend,



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