Dear style & substance,

I just went through a period of loss and grief and now that I have recovered, I see friends going through very similar experiences. I am not feeling that strong but know I need and want to do something to support them. Do you know of a caring way to help friends when I am not quite emotionally stable and figuring out my way back from hurting?

You opened with ‘recovered’ but the rest of your question brings to light the idea of recovery as a process rather than an end state. Knowing that you do not feel strong is part of the awakening after initial grief. Genuinely wanting to give support to your friends will create a healing path for them along with helping you with your own continued healing.

The best support looks and feels like major listening to their story with minimal sharing of your own. There is no pure recipe of what will help people through the rough spots in life. Knowing that trying times are inevitable, but also will pass, will help to equip you with newfound compassion and understanding that is invaluable. Knowing that grieving people long to be "back to normal" can contribute to the creativity and humor you can offer in discovering "a new normal."

Taking note of what helped and didn’t help you is a good starting point. We believe that it is vital not to avoid or put off contact but to make it now in order to avoid future awkwardness or hurt feelings. As a friend, your presence and care will be appreciated. You do not need to be perfect in words or action, you need to be available.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

~Vicki Harrison

Keeping this quote in mind, try these suggestions:

• All grief, unexpected losses or illnesses are different but still losses; other life circumstances can contribute positively or negatively, it is not necessary for you to determine the scope, how big or small these emotions are.

• Showing up in person or with a phone call opens a door that relieves both of you. Let some “air flow” both in and out; meaning allow feelings to be expressed without judgement.

• Be there to listen. When friends feel safe and supported, they will tell you the story of the loss and give you insight into how deep and wide their loss truly is. What they are feeling may be much different from what you assume they are feeling. Then you will have a sense of what to support.

• Keep your words and thoughts in line with your friends by staying clear of platitudes. If they believe that ‘things happen for a reason’, then explore that reason on their terms. If they can visualize a reunion in heaven, let them tell you of that vision.

• Go with their flow and check in frequently, as some days are very good and others are back in the gulley of grief.

Be sensitive to the future; anniversaries can make what appeared to be healed feelings raw again. Stay tuned in.

• Be open to transformation and inspiration, rather than questioning your adequacy in helping someone in need. Sometimes when the energy to show up just doesn’t seem to be in us, if we put ourselves in the right position, that energy magically and spiritually appears for us and for those we care about. We are all changed by life experience and often those changes give us power, empathy and knowledge to share positively with others. 

Sally Meisenheimer and Michele Armani are the owners of style & substance, which provides life coaching and creative solutions. Meisenheimer and Armani are certified life coaches, with many years of experience in health education, workforce development and teaching. Combined, they have been married more than 60 years and raised seven children. Email questions and comments to yourstyleandsubstance@gmail.com.