Watching a friend mourn the death of her mom is painful. The natural tendency is to want to do whatever you can to make her feel better. Although you have to be patient and allow her to grieve in her own way and time, there are concrete actions that you can take to help her through the process of bereavement as she mourns the loss of one of the most significant relationships in her life.
1. Consider the Long Term
The natural tendency for most people when seeing a friend in pain is to try and remove that pain right away. While trying to take away your friend's pain in the short term may ease your psychological pain of seeing her in distress, it is not always best for her. Grief is one of these occasions. Regardless of the model used to understand grief, feeling the pain is part of what someone needs to do. Failure to do this work during the months after the death of her mother may simply bring more pain for your friend later. Understanding that the pain helps your friend move to the new reality of life without her mother can help you as you witness her in pain.
2. Help with the Small Things
As your friend is grieving the loss of her mother, she is likely struggling in many areas of life -- even in the small areas. While some pretty significant areas of life may be consuming her time and energy -- funeral arrangements, time off of work, caring for siblings -- other seemingly insignificant areas, like taking the trash out or packing a child's school lunch, will also need her attention. If she is open to it and your relationship allows for it, you can help her with these things. In some cases, the best thing to do is to remind her of things, while in others cases, it may be OK to step in as she allows.
3. Listen to Your Friend
There will be times when you are with you friend that the space will be filled with silence. The temptation will be to fill that silence with words like, "I know how you feel" or other phrases that may seem helpful on the surface, but are not. The greatest gift you can offer your friend is to be there to listen. Allow her to know that the silence is OK and that it is healthy and normal to experience a whole range of emotions, as long as they are not extreme. If your friend is experiencing extreme feelings of despair, help her seek professional help as this could be a sign of abnormal grieving that can lead to suicide or other dangerous behaviors if left untreated.
4. Consider Her Relationship With Her Mom
As her friend, you probably understand the significance of the relationship she had with her mom. Use this knowledge to anticipate the times when she is most likely to need the support of a friend. If she called her mom at a regular time, check in with her at a similar time. If she and her mom took a trip at the same time each year, pay attention to that time. If she relied on her mother for recipes, offer to help her with baking ideas. Being sensitive to the likely needs of your friend will help you better respond to her easing her through this time of bereavement. When consoling her, never compare her loss to one of your own, unless you have also lost a mother. For example, if you lost a childhood friend and you explain that you experienced similar feelings after the loss, she may resent your words. And while she may not say it out loud, she will likely feel that you are dismissing the enormity of the loss of one of the most significant relationships a person can have in life.
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