Things to Consider Before You Start a Conversation With Your Grieving Friend

Tips to help you have a productive, empathetic conversation about loss

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Alica Forneret

Talking about death and grief can be intimidating.

We worry we’re going to say the wrong thing, remind our friend of something they don’t want to talk about, or hurt them in some way. Though this is something that feels weird for pretty much everyone out there, there are ways you can prep to approach talking about loss. 

Checking in on someone while they are grieving can be an incredible gesture. But before you pull out your phone, take some time to consider the few things below. Holding the right perspective about what your grieving friend might be going through can help you have a safe, helpful, and yes, even enjoyable conversation about loss. 

  • This is about them, not you: If you’re trying to offer them grief support because you want to feel better about yourself, I recommend you put down the phone. Consider that at the end of the day, whatever they need, however they respond, and whomever they choose to talk to about their grief is up to them. 
  • Know your audience: You know your person best. If they like to talk, then offer to have conversations. If they hate texting, give them a call. If they like jokes, send them a meme. If they seem hella sad, stay aware of that and first try supporting them however you’d normally help them get through a tough time.
  • Think about what you have time for: Don’t send someone a text asking them to spill their whole emotional journey over the last four weeks… and then ghost. If you’re trying to have a conversation, then start it when you have time to respond. And if you’re offering to talk to them whenever, wherever, and under any circumstances, don’t offer that if you’re working overtime or letting your phone die 6/7 days a week. 
  • Be prepared for any kind of answer: They could be doing fine, they could be doing horribly. Know that you don’t have to have all the answers if they need more serious support, but do go into a conversation aware that you might not get a “thanks for checking in, I’m fine!” Also, remember that who they were before their loss might not be who they are now. Grief changes our ability to communicate, function, and interact in all kinds of ways, making us more or less bubbly, making us more or less talkative, and making us more or less invested in relationships.
  • Know that “Thanks for checking in, I’m fine!” is ok, too: Because it is! Maybe they ARE doing fine. Maybe you’re not the person they need to talk to. And maybe they just don’t love texting about their feels.
  • Unless you’re a counselor, remember you’re not a counselor: Know that you don’t have to have all the answers if they need more serious support, but make sure that you have a few resources in your back pocket:
  • Don’t freak out if they don’t answer right away: If you’re asking someone to open up, consider that it might be difficult for them. Or they don’t want to talk. Or they just can’t deal right now. Maybe they’ll answer later or maybe they won’t, but what’s important is that you did your best to plant the “I’m thinking about you seed” and they can choose to water it or not.
  • If you offend them, just apologize: Sometimes we mess up, say dumb things, say the wrong thing, or offend someone even when we say what we thought was the right thing. It’s okay to say “I don’t know what to say” or “I realize I shouldn’t have said that” or “Omg I’m an idiot, thank you for letting me know and I’ll never say that dumb thing to you ever again.” 

Alica Forneret is a writer and facilitator creating spaces for people to explore their grief. She is fiercely committed to making sure that we have more conversations about grief, death, and dying - whether that’s at home, at work, or with strangers on the bus. Alica is a member of the BC Women's Health Foundation’s Young Women's Council, an Associate board member of Our House Grief Center, and hosts Dead Moms Club events in Canada and the US.

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Categories: Grief, Supporting Someone Who's Grieving, Talking About Death

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