When a friend loses a loved one knowing how to support them can be challenging to figure out. You don't want to overwhelm them with well-intentioned attention, yet you don’t want to cut them off either. How you approach the situation will, in part, depend on the person and your relationship with them. A simple I'm sorry to hear is plenty for a passing acquaintance, but there is more to consider when giving sympathy to a close friend.
Simple and Heartfelt is Best
As days and months go by, try to avoid empty platitudes such as "They're in a better place now." People need to be allowed to grieve at their own pace, and often such turns of phrase imply that they shouldn't still be grieving. Instead, a simple "I'm sorry" suffices. Depending on the person you're supporting, a hug or listening to them talk is a good follow-up.
Giving flowers and emotional support are excellent things to offer in the first instance, letting your friend know you're thinking of them in a tough time. Further down the line, perhaps as the first anniversary or other important milestones, approaches look to thoughtful memorial gifts. A thoughtful trinket that your friend can remember their lost loved one by while validating their grief as ongoing.
Be Practical Support
Similarly, rather than saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do." take a practical approach, such as dropping off a meal a couple of months after. What a lovely way to acknowledge that the person is still grieving and that you haven't forgotten them or the person they lost. The closest people won't necessarily have the headspace to acknowledge such gestures in the immediate days after a person dies. Further sympathy and support will be appreciated after a bit of time has passed.
Talk About the Deceased
An important aspect of grief to remember is that although the person is dead, their memory is not gone. When talking to grieving family and friends, don’t be afraid to speak of the deceased person. Hearing their name and talking about them is a therapeutic part of the grief process, helping those left behind deal with their feelings. Knowing that others have not forgotten their lost loved ones can be comforting.
Just Be There
There is no time limit to grief, especially as anniversaries and other meaningful dates bring old memories up. Therefore, whether it's in the early days or later on, being there for someone going through a rough patch is essential. Again, be led by what your friend needs – it may be someone to just sit with quietly for an hour or someone to trade funny stories with. Having that emotional support will help the other person feel loved and supported through the rough patch.
There is no set formula for showing sympathy and support to a grieving friend, and a lot depends on the person and circumstances. But there are several practical things you can do to help a friend get through what will be a tough time.