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How Can I Help?

Guest Beth

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My best friends youngest brother has been killed in an ATV accident. It was very sudden and he was only 23.

I have been a friend of the family for 25 of the 30 years of my life. The problem is, that I want to be there for my best friend, she is like a sister to me and i would do anything for her. The grief is still very fresh and my friend runs around keeping herslef very busy. I ask her to let me help but sh has built a wall. This is the person I have shared everything with and who has shared a great deal with me. Now, in her pain she has shut me out. So now my friend is not letting me know how she feels and it hurts. Its also hard, because I dont know how to talk to her about how Im feeling. Her little brother was like a little brother to me too...

I am grieving for her loss and the loss I also feel. I know I can't give up, and no matter how much she tells me to go away, Im not leaving. Though it may sound selfish of me, I feel as though I am greiving the loss of a friend on top of this terrible tragedy that has befallen her family.

What can I do? How can I cope so that I can help her better? Her entire family has kept so busy that Im afraid the full magnitude of the loss hasnt hit them yet. Does anyone have any advice? It hurts to lose someone you care about. It hurts to see come one you love hurt, and it hurts to be pushed away when all you want to do it somehow make it better.

Any advice?


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Dear Beth,

I'm so very sorry for your loss, and of course, because you are feeling so alienated from your best friend right now, it feels as if you've suffered a double loss. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you.

You say that your friend is keeping herself very busy and has built a wall around herself. When evaluating how someone else is grieving, I think it's extremely important to keep in mind that, although certain patterns and reactions are universal and fairly predictable, everyone's grief is as unique to that individual as his or her fingerprints. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no specific time frame.

I'm not sure how long ago your friend's brother was killed, but the fact that he was young and his death was sudden and unexpected are important factors in how your friend is reacting now.

A person in mourning can look and feel quite off balance to the rest of us, especially when that first wave of shock and disbelief wears off. Some may interpret the initial numbness of grief as a sign of indifference toward the one who died or even denial that a death has occurred. The sorrow that normally accompanies grief can look a lot like "depression" to people unfamiliar with grief. But more often than not, what you see is a very normal reaction: a natural response to losing a cherished loved one.

It's very helpful to remember that, in and of itself, grief is not a pathological condition. That's why it's so helpful to read about normal grief, because it helps us know what to expect and learn how we can manage all those reactions that may be unfamiliar to us. If this is your own first experience with losing a loved one to death, Beth, you might find it helpful to do some reading about grief yourself. See especially my articles, Understanding the Grief Process, and Understanding Different Mourning Patterns in Your Family.

I think it's only natural for you to be feeling a need to comfort your friend and in return, to obtain some comfort and understanding back from her because you, too, have lost someone you loved very much. Unfortunately, however, you may be expecting more from your friend than she is capable of giving you right now. That is not to say that your feelings and needs are any less legitimate. You, too, are grieving, and you deserve all the comfort, understanding and support you can find – but I want to gently suggest to you that right now you might do better to look to someone other than this friend for such support.

That said, I want to commend you for coming here and seeking some "pointers" in how to be there for your friend in a positive way as she copes with the loss of her brother, and I'd like to refer you to two excellent articles on that very subject: How to Help a Person in Grief If Someone You Know Has Suffered a Loss by Bob Carnivale, and It's Happening Again by Sandy Goodman.

I'm also pasting into this message a piece that appears on the Comfort for Grieving Hearts page of my Grief Healing Web site, in hopes that it will be of some help to you and to others who read this message:

How to Help a Friend in Grief

As much as we would like to avoid unpleasantness in our lives, sometimes it is inescapable. Instead, we must learn how to grieve in healthy ways and work through our difficulties. If you are wondering what you can do to help a friend who is in intense mourning, here are some suggestions:

Recognize that everyone grieves at their own pace.

Some progress rather quickly, some move very slowly. We never move at the speed that others think we should. Help us take one day at a time.

Keep us company and be there for us.

You don't need to say anything profound or do anything earthshaking. Often, your greatest help is your quiet presence and simplest deeds.

Make suggestions and initiate contact and activities.

It is important for you to respect our privacy and give us some time alone, but we also may not have the energy to structure our lives right after a traumatic loss. We may have to rely on others to think of things that we don't know to ask for.

Provide a safe environment for us to show strong emotions.

It may be very painful, but it can be of enormous help.

Help us remember good things.

Tell us your memories of our loved one as you listen to us tell you ours. If we begin to show our emotions outwardly, you have not upset us, you have simply enabled us to be a bit more open in your presence.

Be there after the first wave is over.

Make the effort to call, to come by, to help us out six months and even a year down the road.Crowds may be difficult for us. Shopping and holidays will be overwhelming. Offer your help. If we're not up to a visit we'll let you know, but let us know you remember and are there for us.

Listen to us.

We need to tell our story over and over in order to process our grief. We may even say outrageous things. Don't judge us by what we say or how we feel. We have a lot to work through, and in time we will come to the answers that are right for us.

Be careful of clichés, religious platitudes, or easy answers.

You may not be able to help us with certain issues right now, so don't be too quick to share your opinions if we say something you don't agree with. We need time to work things out on our own.

Be sensitive to our needs, be patient, have confidence and believe in us.

We will get better, we will experience healing; but it will take some time, and it can be rough going for much of the way.

Be on the lookout for destructive behaviors.

Traumatic loss can lead some people into depression, alcohol or drug abuse. We may need you to keep an eye on us while things are especially tough.

Help us find humorous diversion.

Laughter is good medicine.

Be willing to do difficult things with us.

We may need someone to sit with us in court; we may need a safe place to rage; we may need help with the funeral or afterwards. There may be some hard times ahead and facing them alone can be terrifying.

Help us find ways to bring good things out of the bad.

It is important that our loved one be remembered and memorialized.

Find out about grief.

Read some of the books that are available. The more you know, the better able you will be to help us.

Help us to find support and inspiration.

Often, a poem or song will speak to us in ways that no one else can. Also, talking to someone who has survived a similar loss can help us to realize that we are not alone in our grief.

We have to go through this valley in order to get to the other side.

Dealing with grief cannot be avoided or postponed. Grief can make relationships difficult and you may get frustrated with us or feel uneasy around us. But please remember that now, more than ever, we need the caring and patient support of our friends and family. Help us get through this as well as we are able. Your true friendship and companionship, your kindness and patience can help us get our lives back together.

We will experience some level of grief over our loved one's loss

for the rest of our lives.

Some days will simply be better than others. One day, we hope to reach a point where our good days outnumber the bad. That will be a major milestone for us.

Thank you for being here for us.

Reprinted with permission from What To Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss(3rd Edition), by Bill Jenkins, WBJ Press, Richmond, VA, 20001, www.willsworld.com

I hope this information proves helpful to you, Beth. Above all, please be patient with your friend. Grief work is some of the most difficult work she will ever have to do, and it will help her to know that you will let her do it at her own pace, and that you don't expect her to have to do it all alone.

Wishing you and your friend the peace and healing you both deserve,

Marty T

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