(Jessica, 25, Washington DC)
It’s terrible merely to realize that someone you are close to is grieving, for whatever reason, even if you have no concept of that grief. I think this is because as humans we are all blessed and cursed with being able to live vicariously through each other, and thus while one can’t possible feel how it is to lose a parent or someone close, we can imagine the beginnings of our own despair. Thus, my own feelings at realizing that a friend had lost something close were a pit of sadness and pain as I began to imagine myself in that situation. While I hadn’t been there before, I could at least begin to understand.
In terms of supporting a friend in the long term, it seems as though continuing to treat any seemingly irrational feelings as legitimate is very important to the friend in need. By doing this, the friend has the space they need but you can act as a pillar of rationality and comfort if and when they need it. Honesty and communication of feelings from the friend to me was really important in the grieving process. Additionally, the ability to acknowledge that a certain behavior might be a reaction to the death was also important, as sometimes I wouldn’t realize that that a feeling, statement, or situation necessitated my empathy. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt- the street goes both ways- is critical.
The hardest part of supporting a friend for me, the lack of understanding the mess of feelings and emotions. This is why openness and honesty on the part of the friend are so important, so that those of us who haven’t felt the pain can be as helpful as possible.