Reach out to your family and friends during times of grief. Let them know that your thoughts are with them. At times of bereavement beautifully designed sympathy baskets and comfort gifts are a wonderful way to convey your sympathy, condolence, thoughtfulness and respect.
Your friend has just received the shocking news that her cousin has died suddenly in a car accident. She and her cousin were very close, and she is devastated. You have just found out about the accident and want very much to help her through her grief, but you feel helpless yourself. The truth is that you haven't the slightest idea what to do or say to comfort your friend. You feel a little nervous about calling--and the mere thought of visiting causes even greater consternation--because you aren't at all confident that you are capable of truly comforting her.
First, know that it's completely natural to feel inadequate during times of loss. Most of us do. Death is a formidable opponent. You need not consider yourself weak or incompetent simply because you're finding it difficult to stand against this dark and mysterious specter. Despite your lack of confidence in your own ability to fulfill the comfort-giving role, you do possess inner resources that you can draw upon to help both you and your friend get through it.
Here are a few suggestions, from one who has been there (there being the receiving end of such comfort) on how you can help your friend--or relative, neighbor, coworker, or classmate--through one of the most trying periods of a person's life: the grieving period immediately following a loved one's death.
First, be honest, be real, and above all, be yourself. Your friend will not want you to try to be someone you aren't because tragedy has struck her life. In fact, she will need to be able to depend on the person she knows you to be--the person she liked enough to allow into her heart as her friend before she was grieving. She will need the "genuine article" to help bring her a sense of stability at a time when her world may seem to be spinning out of control.
Don't be afraid to tell her that you are SO sorry for her loss (since I'm sure that you are.) Even when you can't seem to find the right words to express your deepest feelings, those three words, "I'm so sorry," spoken with undisguised emotion, can communicate volumes to a person who is grieving! Then, honestly admit to her that you just don't know what to say but you want her to know that you are there for her. She will appreciate your honesty. Give her a hug, and then be prepared to listen! Be patient, loving, understanding, and kind while she deals with the initial shock of her loved one's death, which can be quite disorienting.
Don't worry if she walks around in a daze at times --particularly at first, when the tragedy is fresh in her mind and heart and she hasn't fully processed the reality of it. This is natural. This is her mind's way of protecting itself from the emotional trauma that sudden death so savagely forces upon us. During those times, she will be somewhat insulated from feeling her loss so acutely. A certain degree of denial--or inability to accept the loss of her loved one--is also normal. Again, this is a protective mechanism that our minds initiate when circumstances in our lives are too traumatic to accept all at once. In time it will lessen and usually will not present a problem if not greatly prolonged.
Don't pressure her to eat. She will probably not have much of an appetite at first--especially right after the incident that caused her loved one's death, and even more so if she happened to be present to witness it. You needn't worry about this. You may offer her food, but do so gently, compassionately, and without pressure. In a short time, this too will pass, and her appetite will return to normal. At first, she may walk around "starving" for hours but simply not be able to bring herself to eat. But she will be OK. You must be patient. Yet it never hurts to offer a gentle reminder now and then--or even to bring her a little something, since she herself is too preoccupied, or too anesthetized, to deal with such mundane matters.
Allow her to cry whenever she feels the need, without letting yourself be embarrassed by her tears or thinking that you will be helping her if you can get her to stop. Crying is an important part of her healing and is actually good therapy, because it is very cleansing to the emotions. During periods of grief, crying is a very good sign. It means that the bereaved person is squarely facing the pain of her loss, rather than avoiding or denying it. She needs to allow herself to grieve--and so do you. Just hold her while she weeps. This will be a great comfort to her.
If she becomes angry over her loss, allow her to vent, offering her a sympathetic ear. Not everyone will experience the anger phase of grief, but those who do should not be made to feel guilty about it. After a time, however, if she remains in that angry place, try to gently coax her out of it, injecting a mellow dose of reason into your conversations with her and offering a fresh perspective. This will help to create emotional balance and hopefully will also enable her to let go of any bitterness she may still be harboring over her loss.
And please don't be afraid to talk about the loved one who has died, fearing that it might upset her! Her grief is always with her, whether you talk about her loved one or not. She will need to come to terms with her loss, and part of the process includes talking about things her loved one has said or done, positive or negative aspects of his or her personality, feelings of guilt or regret that she may have, and even the death itself. Let your friend take the lead, though; then gently join her in her reminiscences and encourage her to begin to look toward the future as soon as she is able.
Offer to help her in every way you can. If she will receive it, point her toward God, who is the greatest Comforter of all after the death of a loved one. Having personally experienced the death of someone close very suddenly and unexpectedly--and having been fortunate enough to have the loving support of family and friends--I know that such compassionate gestures are helpful.
God bless you for caring about your grieving friend!