Q. My co-worker and friend recently lost her husband of 23 years to prostate cancer. I want to be there for her, but I'm not sure how best support her. Could you give advice on what I might say or can do?
It can sometimes be difficult to know what to say and/or what to do for someone who has experienced a loss. Feeling uncertain in terms of what to do and/or say is however common and normal. Death is not an event or human experience that can be “fixed” or “made better”. And, the struggle of loss and grief can certainly bring up feelings and experiences that we may have encountered as well.
Although we may find ourselves not knowing what to say to someone who has experienced a loss, there are ways in which we can offer support. An important way in which we can provide support to someone who is grieving is to offer what I suggest is the “gift of presence”. Simply letting your friend know that you are there to listen to her story and embrace her can be extremely supportive and healing. Remember that the grief experience is a process and everyone will grieve and heal in their own way and in their own time. This means that the support you offer your friend may change with the flow and movement of her grief and healing process. Grief and healing are interconnected and can often be experienced simultaneously. You may have to let your friend know therefore that the vicissitudes and range of emotions that may be experienced at times, although disconcerting, are normal. Allowing the process to be what it is, listening to your friend’s story, giving her a safe space, and offering validation of her grief will convey the message to your friend that you are “present” to her and care. Helping your friend find a support group can also be very helpful in connecting her to other people who are experiencing similar feelings and struggles.
You may want to read CancerCare’s fact sheet, How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving which may offer further suggestions and tips on how you may be of support to your friend.