Let’s face it. Very often when a friend or loved one experiences a loss in their lives or goes through a crisis, it can be a very awkward experience for those of us who are on the outside. Often we can feel nervous about what to say and how to best support that friend.
I experienced this a few years ago for the first time when my beloved dog, Lucy passed away. The day after she passed away, I shared a beautiful love & gratitude letter with my community on social media. Some of the responses were comforting and lovely… while others created more pain and discomfort for me. Interestingly enough, some people who I considered dear friends didn’t even reach out at all, staying silent.
I was confused by this. I knew that most people leaving comments that made things feel worse didn’t have that intention. And those who didn’t reach out at all, it wasn’t like them to abandon me in a time of grief. So what was going on?
I began to observe how people react to grief in other situations and talked to others who had been through a crisis or a grief process of losing a loved one. I noticed similar comments and behaviors across the board.
Recently, with a crisis in my family which I shared again with my community to start a prayer chain, I found similar comments being made again. And I realized this was a calling to create a short, helpful guide. You see, times of crisis and grief unfolding around us can leave the most eloquent of us speechless. We want to help, but are afraid of creating more pain. Or we feel uncomfortable and just want the whole thing to go away. We accidentally say things that don’t come across as supportive to the experiencer of the crisis.
In this community, we talk a lot about showing up as a leader of the space. Being able to show up in a soulful way that serves those around us. So I created this guide after many, many conversations with friends, clients and colleagues who have been through grief and crisis and compiled their answers into one short, guide.
Now let me preface this next bit by saying this: The grieving experience is very unique and individual to each person. No one person grieves the same, and that means that what may be offensive to one person, is highly comforting to the other. So what I’m about to say by no means constitutes the perfect template for how to deal with a grieving friend in a kind, compassionate way, that leaves them feeling supported instead of more burdened.
But I think you will find this a good, general comprehensive list of the do’s and don’ts of how to tactfully, lovingly, and compassionately, reach out to a friend or acquaintance who is in deep grief or crisis, in a way that leaves them feeling nourished, supported, and uplifted.
Do reach out
Sometimes when someone near us is going through crisis, we can feel awkward and afraid to say anything for fear we will cause more distress. I get it — I’ve also felt afraid to say something when a friend has experienced a loss because I’m nervous I’m going to “mess up” and say the wrong thing. But not reaching out or waiting many days to reach out to a friend because you’re not sure what to say, just makes you look uncaring and clueless to the friend in crisis. This is a time when your presence and support is most needed. It’s important to get over your fear of “messing up,” and just reach out.
Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about a friend who is in need of support and love after a heartbreaking experience. You can even let them know that you’re feeling nervous to reach out because you want to make sure you can support them as best you can and that you’re there for them, even if you can’t find the right words. Below is a little script for how you can do this (feel free to adapt to your own needs).
Hey, I just heard about what happened. I’ll admit I’ve been nervous to reach out because I don’t want to say the “wrong” thing. I really want to be of utmost support to you in this difficult time. I can’t even imagine what you must be going through, my heart is hurting for you and I wish I could make it all go away. Just know I am here for you and I’m sending so much love. Anything you need, let me know. I’ll check in on you again in a few days.
Send a personal message if this person is a close friend
If the person is a close enough friend that you text with them privately frequently, or speak with them on the phone, unless they have requested to have no texts sent, don’t send a generic response over a social media post that strangers are responding to and then drop off the face of the earth — reach out to them privately.
Let them know you’re there. A person who is grieving needs the support of their friends. They don’t care whether you commented on their social media post — they want to hear from you personally if they’ve shared important life moments with you. During times of crisis it’s important to let the one in crisis know that you are present. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer of presence, just knowing there are people thinking of you and witnessing you in this event sometimes is the only thing that makes you feel better. Their crisis is not a general social media event, it’s deeply personal. So if you have a personal relationship with them, show up that way. You’ll be glad you did.
Help your friend out by asking them what they need.
I’ve spoken with people who have different opinions on this. Some tell me being asked what they need is stressful because in grief sometimes you don’t know what you need. However, the majority of people tell me they greatly appreciate being asked what they need. I know I have always appreciated it.
Why? Because often we can give the kind of support that doesn’t really help when we forget to check in with the other person’s needs. For example, I had a friend who, after losing a dear family friend, needed space to grieve. She did not want to be disturbed by in person visits. Yet, friends kept showing up at her door, insisting she come out with them. It felt like a total violation of her space and it created more distress for her.
Often, your friend is so overcome with grief, they don’t even have it in their mental capacity to know they have the option of just asking for help. Or they don’t know what to ask for.
During times of crisis, the texts and messages from close friends that meant the most to me, that made me feel most supported and that provided the most help were the ones that said, “Lisa, I’m so sorry. What do you need right now, so that I can give that to you. I want you to know I’m here, for whatever you need. Seriously, just ask.”
When those texts came in during my times of crisis, I felt relieved. The fact that they asked me what I needed and let me know that, seriously, they are happy to fulfill that wish, allowed me to momentarily have enough mental clarity to ask MYSELF what I needed, then clearly state what I needed. Prior to that I had been too overwhelmed with grief to even think about asking for what I needed.
I was then able to say, “Can you please leave me a voice message about some silly story from your daily life that happened today? Or tell me what you did today so I can get my mind off of it? Can you send me a funny memory of a time we shared together via voice message?” This creates a space for your grieving friend to feel safe to ask for what they need, allows them to feel your deep loving presence and real actionable support.
I know we sometimes want to run away when friends are going through crisis, but if the person who is grieving is a close friend, they’ve been there for you during some of your darkest times — skip the generic I love you’s and “sending love” texts and ask what they need. Parties, busy work, and general life dramas, will always be present in your life. The opportunity to truly be there for a friend in grieving only comes around once in a blue moon (hopefully). By asking them what they need, you can avoid sticking your foot in your mouth, and will have clear guidance for how best to support your friend.
Be okay with however long it takes them to move through this
The grieving process is a very individual thing. Trust that your friend is taking however long they need to move through this. Asking them if they’re “feeling better yet” can come across as insensitive and often reflects your own discomfort with their very personal grieving process. It doesn’t feel supportive. It feels like you’re “waiting for them to get over it.”
So what can you do instead? First be careful not to ask because you’re just hoping they’re over it now so you can get back to normal. When your friend experiences a loss or a crisis, it is an initiation. Things will never be the way they were. Your friend will evolve and move into a new normal. Ask how they are feeling because you genuinely want to know how they’re feeling and processing. You wouldn’t want to be rushed through your loss. Honor your friends process and remember it’s not about you; it’s about them.
Try not to tell people how they should feel, how they’re going to feel, minimize their experience, lecture them on life, or tell them what the meaning of their experience is.
This is the MOST important point of this post. I really hated it when people, after my dog’s death, totally unsolicited, told me to “breathe” and tried to give me the “great lesson” in all of this. Or told me to “be strong.” It pained me when people told me “where my dog had gone in the afterlife,” and that “this was all for the best.”
The most painful thing someone did after my dog died was to pitch me their coaching services and then place a link in the comments below my post about my dog’s death to promote their business. During a recent family crisis someone left a comment saying this was not that big of a deal, and that many recover from what my family member was suffering from. In fact, my family member was dealing with a more severe version of the illness and almost died twice before my very eyes. So to be told this was “not that big of a deal” felt terribly dismissive.
Many of my post-grieving, or currently grieving friends, told me they felt the same way and some shared that comments like this felt deeply and only made them feel worse.
When your friend is grieving or going through crisis, they’re experiencing some seriously intense emotions. They don’t need a perfectly packaged life lesson lectured to them, or to be talked to like they asked you to be their coach or therapist. There are details about the situation you don’t know, so don’t assume you know the situation is not that big of a deal. In addition, what you don’t experience as a big deal, can be a big deal to someone else. It’s important for us to be sensitive to the individual experiences of our loved ones. We are not all the same internally.
When you’re in grief or crisis you’re not at a point where you’re interested in the great lesson of all of this, just yet. You’re just trying to get through the blinding pain you feel every morning when you wake up and remember that the loss or crisis is real and that it wasn’t all a bad dream. When you tell someone how they’re feeling, how they will feel, how they should feel, lecture them on the lesson, give them unsolicited advice, or use their sharing of their experience as an opportunity for you to start coaching them, (unsolicited), it feels icky to the person going through crisis.
If you aren’t close with the person grieving but want to support, simply witnessing them is more than enough.
Try, “I’m so sorry for what has happened. I’m sending lots of love. You and your family are in my prayers daily!” Or, “I lit a candle for you and your family. Sending so much love your way!”
Do honor their wishes and stated needs
If you have a friend who very specifically asks for what they need, and they are an emotionally healthy person in general, don’t assume they don’t know what they’re saying because they’re so deep in grief/crisis then use that as reasoning to totally disregard their specific requests.
Trust me, if they were able to pull it together long enough to ask clearly for what they need during this time, they actually mean it.
Don’t show up to their door if they asked to be alone.
Don’t send them flowers if they asked for them not to be sent.
Don’t call and text them if they ask not to receive those messages during this time.
Disregarding someone’s clear requests during a time of need feels like a total lack of care and can create a great deal of distress for the person in crisis.
Check in on them, often.
A dear friend of mine lost her parent not too long ago. I didn’t even know what to say but I knew that during times of need, it always felt good to know my loved ones were “tracking” me. I sent her a message every day (after checking with her that that would be okay), simply to say “I love you and thinking of you today;” or, “Sending you so much love today, Sister. I’m with you.” She told me later that this meant the world to her. She often never responded but just knowing I was holding her energetically like that made her feel comforted.
If someone is a good friend, sending them one message and then dropping off the face of the earth feels disappointing to your friend in grieving. Very often, when you’re in grief, you lose all sense of time. Knowing that there are people who check in on you regularly, who are thinking of you, provides a great deal of comfort and gives the you some sort of grounding and reminder of the outside world.
So many people I spoke with told me that people checking in on them regularly was one of the most helpful things their friends did during their grieving/crisis process. They may not always be able to respond but they know you’re thinking of them and holding them from afar.
If you’re unsure if this kind of regular check in will be helpful to your friend, simply ask. Here’s a good script to use: “During times like this it has always helped me to know my friends are tracking me. I would love to send you some love and support via text message every other day — would that be okay for you? You are under no obligation to respond at all, either. Here’s my first message: I am carrying you with me in my heart today and sending so much love. And totally okay if you don’t want this!”
If the person lets you know they want messages with less frequency or none at all, respect that as well. They are letting you know their boundaries and those should be respected.
If I were to gather one golden rule from all of this, it would be this one: it is not about you, it’s about them. If you approach a friend or loved one in crisis or grief with that in mind, you will usually avoid creating more pain and distress for them.
Dealing with loss, big emotions and grief in a friend can be very awkward and can leave you at a loss for words. Yet, simply asking and being focused on what that person needs (vs. your needs), can give you a specific manual to their heart and to creating an environment of loving support and care for a person who you love.
In that way, we can continue to lead from soul, serving those around us, and uplifting the environment around us instead of creating more distress and destruction.
Did this help you today? I’d love to know which point helped you the most today! Let me know in the comments below.