Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss. Russell Friedman, Executive Director of the Grief Recovery Institute and co-author of the "Grief Recovery Handbook," asserts that feeling sad after a loss is healthy -- and attempts to curtail grief are not. Friends and family of those who are grief stricken may feel awkward and want the passage of grief to speed along. For the grieving person, however, pressure to overcome grief is counterproductive. Whether you live together or several thousand miles apart, the best help you can offer to a friend who is grieving is your support and a willing ear to listen -- for as long as it takes.
Though you may be separated geographically, the telephone can easily bridge the miles between you and your friend. Keep trying if your calls are not immediately returned -- a person who is grieving needs you to take the initiative. Let your friend know that you will answer your phone 24/7 and that you want to hear from her. When you do speak on the phone, do more listening than talking and refrain from offering advice. In the case of a death, comments such as "She is in a better place," though well-meaning, urge her to rush through grief. If you feel awkward, simply say, "I don't know what to say" or "I can't imagine how you have been feeling."
The next best route to communicate aside from the telephone is by email or through the post office. Consider sending a weekly card in the mail for a year -- this will be appreciated in the weeks and months that follow the loss when many others have withdrawn support. In the case of a death, if you knew the person well, you could consider sending a note of remembrance with stories about the deceased. If you sense that your friend is having trouble with daily life, you could order practical help for her such as a meal delivery or cleaning service for a set period of time.
Visit in Person
Sometimes we are not as far apart as we think. If possible, plan a trip to visit your friend in person. Plan a special meal together or make arrangements for other activities to keep occupied. Visiting in person gives you the opportunity to evaluate how your friend is managing grief and if is has turned into something more. Extended grief can sometimes lead to clinical depression. If you are very worried, Friedman advises saying something such as, "I'm very concerned for you. I'll be glad to support you as you look for help and am here to listen if you need to talk about it."
In the case of a death, you might consider finding ways to honor the memory of the deceased. Often the grieving individual needs to feel as though his loved one has not been forgotten as time passes. Ideas might include making a donation to a non-profit organization, planting a memorial tree, or having a quilt made out of the person's favorite items of clothing. Tributes such as these show your friend that the deceased is still in the thoughts of everyone -- at a time when he may worry that memories are slipping away.
Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.