Recently, I lost one of my dearest friends to Bipolar II and depression. He is gone, and the rest of us were left to pick up the pieces of our hearts his death shattered. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Whenever someone passes, we almost never seem to know what to do or to say, and yet death is a huge, unavoidable part of our lives. As someone who could barely breathe through the grief at times, I thought I would share some of the things people did that helped me feel like I could actually make it through to the next day. The following are some things my good friends did for me that I hope I can do for others in their times of mourning, and I thought maybe it would help you to help someone else too. These suggestions range from things you can do as an aquaintence to very good friend. Know your audience.
When it’s raw
When I came home that afternoon, I really thought I had processed it. Sometimes you think you have. But then you realize that you’re just sitting there, just being, and wondering why you are still alive. If you’re on the end of the trauma, call someone. Seriously, even when you feel like all you want to do is be alone in your heartache, it is far from what you need right then. If you’re the one who is called, go over to wherever they are. They need you. And wear a shirt you don’t mind if it gets ruined with the waterworks.
Let me start off by saying, please, DO NOT tell them that everything is going to be okay. Because it isn’t. If there is anything that is the worst thing to hear, it’s that everything will be alright. If you feel the need to say something, “I know,” “I’m so sorry,” “This really sucks,” and “I’m here for you” may be simple, but we, in our grief, can at least believe you, and won’t trigger anger that is irrational from being told “It will be okay.”
1.1. Just sit next to them, be with them. A lot of times, the presence of a trusted friend gets through to them, and it helps their brain not be overwhelmed with the cortisol (or stress hormone) as much. Just let them know you are with them, no matter what they need.
1.2. Physical touch is comfort (usually). Definitely know your friend, but I have found that even the least touchy people I know just need an arm around them, especially when they cry. If they can’t bear to situp or stand, just sit next to them where ever they lie, rub their calves or arms in comfort, just be there.
1.3. After a while, put on mindless shows. After a while, once they are calmed, offer to turn on a show or movie. Not necessarily a comedy, but something light hearted. It’s slightly distracting, and it gives their brains a little relief from their pain, even if they don’t realize it.
1.4. If you can, stay with them unless you absolutely can’t. I had a good friend who stayed with me every second after for several days, yes, even overnight (nights are the hardest/worst), unless they had to work. This was the most helpful thing, just having a trusted human presence near me. I know it’s difficult sometimes to be around someone who is sad that long, but they will love you forever. I know I will.
1.5. Make sure they eat. They will have zero appetite for a week, but softly encourage them to take a couple of bites here and there. My friend cooked up a bunch of food for me to just have ready if I had even an inkling of appetite, because when you do, it can vanish a couple seconds later when in grief. Order them their favorite Chinese or pizza. Calories packed in every bite are important when you are only biting a little bit. If your state allows it recreationally, encourage them to consume cannabis to induce appetite. If your state allows it medicinally, offer to drive them to the doctor for a temporary prescription.
1.6. Draw them a bath. If you can, get them some essential oils or natural bath salts to put in. And bubbles are always cool. My favorite is chamomile extract, as it’s calming effect is not limited to tea.
1.7. Make them some tea. (Peppermint, Sleepytime, Chamomile)
When the initial shock passes
You can still apply any of the above if you still feel it would be helpful, but after the first couple of days, there is more you can do.
2.1. Let them know it is okay and healthy to talk. Let them speak about it, encourage them to, but don’t push. If they don’t let it out, it will fester, and the what-ifs and should-haves will consume them.
2.2. Bring them some B COMPLEX vitamins. Okay, so these things are awesome. You can get them from Walmart in gummy form, strawberry flavor. Delicious, cheap, and super helpful when taken. They won’t relieve the sadness, but they will give them a little bit of energy and give a little pick-me-up.
I got upset when this happened, because I felt as though my sadness was going away too quickly–just remind them that their body needs to feel better in order to get to the place where you can honor the memory of their lost loved one instead of living in the pain that they would never have wanted you to feel.
2.3. Encourage a friend/support group. If possible, encourage them to contact and maybe even meet up with the lost one’s friends, even if they didn’t previously know them. After the funeral, I arranged a gathering, a support group meeting if you will, with some of his friends and roommates. We went to a nice restaurant and had a glass or two of wine, and just talked about our departed friend. We laughed at the good, nerdy memories, discussed the much harder things, but out of it we realized how much he was loved and loved us, and how much we needed each other. Just talking to people in other facets of his life brought us closer and more at peace, and I also know that I have made some new friends.
2.4. Send them quick messages throughout the day/week. The texts/IMs don’t even have to be about anything in particular, but maybe something funny you saw happen or something that reminded you of them–it all translates that you care about them.
2.5. Make sure they don’t feel bad about still grieving. One thing I have learned is that people who think there should be some kind of time limit have never lost a piece of their heart, or have suppressed it and don’t realize that it is eating them from the inside. The ache never goes away, it just becomes tougher as a scar.
I’m sure that there are many other things that you can do in individual cases, but I hope that this helps at least a little bit. In order to more understand why your grieving friend is acting the way they are, visit this link to understand how their personality type handles grief. (This is based on Myers-Briggs personality traits.)