When a friend has a death [how to act/help]

When a friend or someone close to you has a close family member or close person in their life die, below are some ways that you, their friend, can help. First of all, they’re grieving, and grieving could look many different ways (hurt, sad, anger, silence, etc.), so don’t think they’re not affected by the passing of someone in their life.

Here are some thoughts on how you can help them.  These are ideas to take away and to use, and nothing concrete. I’m giving this in an adulting format if you’ve never had anyone die. 

  1. If you’re a close friend of your friend. This means that you know your friend deeply. You’re in their inner orbit.
  2. If you’re an acquaintance of your friend. They may be a work colleague, someone in your apartment building, someone you know at regular meetings, but you really don’t know them like the close friend. You’re in their intermediate orbit.
  3. If you’re the old friend. You used to know them a long time ago and you, like the current close friend, did everything together, you knew them but through life’s challenges and journeys, you’re no longer in their life. You’re now in their outer orbit.

You’re a close friend, in the inner orbit of the person 

If your friend calls you about a death, and you’re in their close orbit, you’re their best friend or are really close to themwhat you do is you talk to them, actually, you listen to them. You stay on the topic of their loss no matter what’s going on in your life.  

Some of the first words out of your mouth should be “I’m sorry,” or “I’m so sorry.” Yes, you get to then ask what happened. “I’m so sorry, what happened?” Then you keep listening, and you ask “How can I help?” 

If they call you or text you and you couldn’t answer, you call them back immediately or as soon as possible with the same information as above, I’m so sorry, how can I help? If they’ve texted you saying that someone died, you call them back, you don’t text them back. 

When you do talk to your friend you just listen, and when you do say wordsyou ask the question is there anything I can do to help?  

If your friend just found out about the loss and they called you to talkit’s also important to know that they may not physically be able to talk if they were really close to that family member or their friend.  

They actually may be crying when they call you. They may not actually be able to talk to you.  It may be too fresh, too painful, too sensitive, for them to actually utter words.  

As quickly as you can you say I’m sorry, or I’m so sorry. And then if they need to hang up let them know they can call you when they can. Then, you call them. You initiate contact. They may think that they’re bothering you. They’re not bothering you as you are their friend. So you call them back. That way they know you’re wanting to be there for them and that they’re not bothering you. It’s 

If your friend says that there is nothing that you can do after you’ve asked “Is there anything I can do?” listen and acknowledge that, and, take into consideration that they may not know that they need your help and that they need you to be there to listen to them 

So, if they say “I don’t need anything,” acknowledge that kindly, “Yes, of course,” and if you have the opportunity to show up for them, you show up for them. Don’t intrude, but show up, after all you are their friend. You’re going to have to use your knowing your friend to see if you’re intruding or not. Your friend may have trouble, whether they know it or not, in figuring out what it is that they actually need.

If in the initial call or inperson conversation, you need to go [you’ve got to go to work, pick up your kids, whatever] let them know that you need to go and that you are there for them and if they need to talk, they can call you again or will you can meet again. Here’s the thing, they may not call because as I’ve shared, they may not know their needs, or they may think they’re bothering you, or a whole host of things.

If you haven’t heard from them within the next couple of days after that conversation, you call them, go see them, or text them and ask them how they are doing. YOU follow up. Let them know you’re there for them.  Ask if there’s anything you can do. 

Usually just being there and listening to them is a great help. this can mean that they talk, you sit in silence listening. Sometimes offering a distraction helps. “Hey, I’m following up, do you want to get a cup of coffee/lunch?” 

You can ask them do you want to talk about something else to distract you from this right now? You have to have the good sense to know if that question is appropriate or not.  Maybe they’ll say yes, maybe they’ll say no. that’s okay. If they say no, just let them know that you’re there for them, then you can leave it at that. 

I know when my brother died, I reached out to someone that’s becoming a closer friend. I said to her (knowing her schedule for the next day) “Hey, can I meet you for breakfast tomorrow? I need a distraction.”  We had breakfast and then took a walk. We talked about my brother, sure, but we talked about other things as well. It was an opportunity for each of us to become better friends.  

If there is a funeral service and your friend wants you to come, you come. If at all possible, you come you join them.  If you’ve never been to a funeral service let your friend know “Hey I’ve never been to a service so I don’t know what to do.” that’s fine.  

Let them know you’re there for them however you can be there for themthat you just don’t know what to do.  It’s okay to ask them for guidance. They may just say sit beside me.  

When my mom died many years ago, a high school buddy of mine didn’t know what to do, so he was going to hang back. I said no, you walk with me. He didn’t need to say a freaking word.  He was my friend, and that meant a lot to me.  

This might sound tricky: If you are the boyfriend or girlfriend of the friend whose friend just lost someone, it would be appropriate for you to go to the funeral without saying a word and just offering your condolences. A good example of this is the TV show Sex in the City 

In the episode My Motherboard, My Self, Sex and the City: Season 4, Episode 8 of Sex and the City, the mother of the character Miranda dies. Her best friend Carrie’s boyfriend and Miranda’s semi boyfriend both show up at the funeral. They are there just to be in attendance, just to offer silent support. They weren’t asked to go, but they showed up. That’s what you do. As of this writing, the show is on HBO and Amazon Prime [I get nothing for this reference]. 

Showing up like this is huge in real life. 

After the funeral service, whether or not you have gone to the funeral or not, after a few days, contact your friend again just to check in on them. 

Good words to say are  “Hey, I’m just checking in, how you doing?” 

You’re an acquaintance, you’re in the intermediate orbit. 

If you are in their intermediate orbit of friendshipsyou know them, you know what’s going on in their life but you’re not good, good friends, the very minimum you can do when you find out of their family members passing, is let them know that you are sorry.  

The words are something like this..  

  • “I heard about your brother, your mother, your friend, and I’m sorry [for your loss].” 
  • NOTE: That’s all you need to say. 

I’m not a fan of posting personal things onto social media, but when I lost my brother, I posted something that alluded to my loss. An acquaintance texted me after seeing the post thinking that the post was about something entirely different. I texted back, “No, the post was that my brother just died.” His response was “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”  

That’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this. Many people don’t know what to say.  

I was at a meeting and a couple of people who aren’t in my close friendship orbit heard about my brothers passing. I didn’t tell them because well, they’re in the “intermediate orbit,” and I don’t know them that well. But at various points of that meeting, each one individually said what I’m encouraging you to say. 

“I heard about your brother and I’m sorry for your loss.” I said “Thank you.” It meant a lot to me that they had the kindness to offer their condolences.  

Old friend, not a current friend, but you used to be close.  

If your old friend calls you out of the blue to let you know that someone close to them has died, you do what a close friend does. You listen. 

When I called a grade school friend, who was super close for a lot of years about my brother’s death, I barely could get out words, just enough to let her know that my brother died. 

She said what I’m telling you, I’m so sorry.
She said that I could call her any time  

This friend, now only a Facebook friend, texted the next day and said that she was sending love and light. While this was nice, for the level of relationship that we used to have, the level of friendship that we used to have, I have to admit, the text felt shallow. If she could have texted, she could have called. I might have even given us the opportunity to connect again. That’s what happened when I contacted my high school friend.

My high school friend is someone who I don’t have contact with the exception of birthdays and holidays. Similar to my grade school friend, my high school friend knew my brother, knew our family. All I could text was “My brother just died.” I didn’t know what else to say in that text. But I got a text back within the hour. “Wow,  I’m sorry,  I can’t believe it. How you doing?” 

This friend asked me about it through text and by this time of texting people I was actually able to talk and I said to him in text “Hey, you got a sec?” He said, anytime. I gave a call, and we talked for the next hour catching up on what’s going on. It looks like I’m going to be couch surfing on his couch in a couple of months as we’ve decided that we actually going to our next high school reunion. 

If your friend has just lost someone, I hope this has been helpful to you. I hope it helps you be a better friend.

If your friend just had a close relative or a close friend die, your friend needs you now whether they know it or not, whether they know how to ask for help or not. 

And whether or not your friend was close to that relative or had (what is very often) very mixed feelings, and mixed thoughts due to a lot of historical pain in that relationship, your friend needs you now. When talking with your friend, the truth is that you may not need to say a whole lot.  That’s okay.  For you to show up for them, even without the perfect words to say, your just being there will speak volumes.  

Here’s are a couple of links to give you some more information on how to help someone who’s grieving.