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The loss of a parent is a devastating, life-changing event, and everyone handles it differently. The bereaved may need distractions or someone to talk to; they may need help with daily tasks or to do everything for themselves. Because people grieve in different ways, there's no single list of things to do to help your friend. The etiquette for the situation can help you figure out what your friend needs and avoid common mistakes you might otherwise make.
Contact your friend when you hear about the loss. If your relationship is close, pay your friend a visit. If not, a phone call or a printed card is appropriate; according to Emily Post, if you and your friend are particularly close, you can send an email before you call or write. In your message, express your sympathy and offer to help in any way you can. Don't expect a reply right away. Your friend is probably busy organizing the funeral or a memorial and handling the estate, and may be overwhelmed with messages.
Phrase your condolences to focus on your friend and your friend's mother. Appropriate things to say include "Your mother was such a wonderful and important part of the community, and it won't be the same without her" and "I'm so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there's anything I can do." Using your friend's mother's first name is also appropriate.
Offer to help provide food, flowers, programs or anything else the family might need for the memorial service or reception, say Melinda Smith and Dr. Jeanne Segal, writing for HelpGuide. If your help isn't needed, don't be offended. Tell your friend that you remain available if there's anything else you can do.
Call again a few days after the funeral. Let your friend steer the conversation. Don't push to talk about your friend's mother, the circumstances of her death, or what your friend is planning to do about her belongings. Be willing to talk about normal things or to sit in silence if that's what your friend wants to do.
Ask your friend if you can help shop for groceries, cook, clean or manage other household duties. When the family begins organizing your friend's mother's papers or cleaning out her house, offer your assistance.
Resume your normal friendship activities when a few weeks have passed, but remember that your friend is still grieving. Let your friend decide whether or not to talk about the loss on these outings. Your friend may need distractions more than conversation.
Touch base with your friend every few weeks, at least. Your friend may still be suffering long after the outward signs of grief fade. Give every opportunity to talk about the loss, but never demand it.
- Avoid condolence statements that suggest that your friend's loss was for the best or was what God intended, says Emily Post. Don't tell your friend how to grieve; statements like "It's time to move on" or "You need to begin disposing of your mother's things" are out of line and can be hurtful.
Stephanie Mitchell is a professional writer who has authored websites and articles for real estate agents, self-help coaches and casting directors. Mitchell also regularly edits websites, business correspondence, resumes and full-length manuscripts. She graduated from Syracuse University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater.
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