When a friend's grandfather dies, you shouldn't minimize the loss. The loss of a family member is often particularly challenging when the family member is older as people often assume it was expected and sometimes underestimate the significance of the loss, according to June 2009 article in "World Psychology." Helping your friend involves understanding and identifying her grief reactions, helping her with concrete needs and supporting her emotional needs long term.
Assist your friend in navigating her grief by helping her normalize the roller coaster of emotions that she's experiencing. Realize that she will go through stages of grief including anger, frustration, sadness and even denial that come like waves during the grieving process, but keep in mind that they don't come in any particular order. This means that your friend might function normally sometimes, but then feel paralyzed by her sense of loss over her grandfather at other times. If your friend questions why this is happening to her, reassure her that it's perfectly normal. Tell her that the process of grief isn't linear. According to the June 2009 article in "World Psychiatry," grief responses can range from barely noticeable alterations to profound anguish and dysfunction, yet this is all within the normal spectrum of grief response.
Help your friend access her coping skills by reminding her of her ability to cope in the past. A 2009 article in "Primary Psychiatry" discusses a dual process model of grief that includes two responses: The first is a loss-oriented response, which is the active form of grieving and can be very stressful. The second is a restoration-oriented response, which involves the expression of active coping skills that allow an individual to process the loss. Point out to your friend that she worked through difficulties in the past so she can apply her coping skills to her current situation.
Offer to pick up groceries for your friend, make her a meal, drive her to visit her family or simply help her sort her mail. She might have difficulty maintaining day-to-day activities since she is grieving. Helping out with practicalities will give her time to focus on how she feels.
Give her a safe, nonjudgmental listening ear as well as practical support. Encourage her to share memories of her grandfather and when she gets emotional let her cry and express her feelings.
Be there for special anniversaries related to your friend's grandfather and offer any long-term support that she needs. The grieving process can go on long term for some people. And while there is often no lack of support when the death occurs, with time, support diminishes. Stay connected with your friend, helping her remember her grandfather's birthday and other significant days over the next few years, not just months.
- If you feel your friend is displaying abnormal grief reactions or articulates suicidal sentiments, contact a medical professional for help.
Cate O'Reilly, who holds a Masters degree in social work, has worked with HIV widows and orphans in Zambia, chronically ill children in Ireland and maternal/child health in America. She has contributed to newsletters, developed protocol manuals and curriculum for education and public health forums.