Writer Mary Elizabeth Williams intimately understands the challenge, and in response has put together a list of really helpful advice. She writes, "Though I still frequently find myself stunned and stammering for the right words with every fresh death, I’m trying to improve at the art of consolation. So I recently asked my friends for their counsel about what they’ve appreciated most in the worst moments. The main tip? Just be a friend. Just stick around. It’s so simple, and so needed."
Some of the tips she gathered from her friends include:
Don’t press too hard for details. Let the griever decide the narrative.
Don’t ask questions that sound like you’re looking for a way to make this OK. Don’t ask if he smoked or didn’t wear his seat belt or if he’d been very depressed lately or why he didn’t do that last round of chemo. Don’t judge him.
Be empathetic without one upsmanship. It’s OK to mention your own experience of loss, especially if it’s similar...But if this thing is ripping open your own old scars, you do not have a right to put that on the other person right now.
This is not radio; you do not have to fill the dead air. It’s OK to be quiet and thoughtful. Silence is not by definition awkward, not when you establish that you’re present and you’re supportive.
Stick around. Remember. For a long time. Grief is a chronic condition. So look at your phone. It has a reminder function, right? Set it for a month from now. Set it for the first Father’s Day after the death. Set it for the dead person’s birthday. And then check in with your friend.
If you've got any tips to add to this list, we'd love to know. Please leave them in the comments section below. If you're supporting a friend who's experienced a loss, take a look at Williams' piece in Salon and check out our articles How to Express Sympathy: What to Say and What Not to Say and How to Write a Condolence Note.