It can be challenging to know what to say or do when someone you care about is hurting. Learn how to handle emotional situations with our suggestions on how to help a friend or family member in need.

By Katie Mills Giorgio

We all face tough times in our lives. Grieving isn’t only about death. It can be triggered by a major life change (losing a job or having to move across the country) or upsetting news (grandpa isn't a candidate for that kidney transplant or a child is diagnosed a severe long-term illness).

When things fall apart for someone, it can be hard for you to know what to say, especially because the grieving process is unique to each person. Keep in mind that you cannot fix a friend’s grief or what they are going through. But there are ways to offer comfort during their tough time. Here are some tips on how to be a friend to someone on a difficult journey.

1. Reach Out

You don’t have to know what to say. You just have to be there. When people are grieving, don't avoid them because you don't know what to say. That can make the person feel alienated. Simply letting your friend know you are there for them and asking how they are doing on that day can be reassuring. Your reaching out also can relieve a heavy emotional burden for the friend going through a tough time because it eliminates the fear that other people don’t currently want to talk to or be around them.

2. Listen, Then Listen Some More

When I was told I had a cancerous tumor that needed to be removed, my mind started to spin. Thank goodness for one phone call to a dear friend who knew she needed to listen as I poured out everything that was weighing on my mind. She simply listened, and I was so grateful. Keep in mind, it might take more than one conversation. Remember, it’s totally OK not to know what to say while you lend a listening ear.

3. Withhold Judgment

Grieving and how someone deals with a tough time belongs to them. While being there for them, make sure your judgment of the situation or their reaction is never present. Being nonjudgmental is essential. They need you to listen, not judge.

There may be times when your friend asks your opinion, but for the most part, your friend is not looking for a comparison of her grief to your experiences. Though it can be tempting to offer comfort with platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason” or “time heals all wounds,” try to avoid them. Those words can sound trite and hurtful so are best left unsaid.

Related: 10 Little Ways to Practice Mindfulness Every Day

4. Take Off Your Rose-Colored Glasses

It’s great to be a positive person and make the best of things. But during rough patches, your friend will need someone who will also acknowledge that life is not fair. Sometimes the reality is grim and sad and can't be fixed. Being sad, angry, disappointed, or confused are as natural as happiness and excitement. Ignoring negative emotions won’t help your friend heal. Allow your friend to explore her grief.

5. Check In Often

A friend of mine once lost a dear sibling. During the difficult, grief-filled days after the death, a dear friend and neighbor took it upon herself to write a daily note or love letter. The neighbor would slip it under the doormat on her front porch. My friend later remarked that finding those daily notes was a highlight of her day and played a significant role in her grieving and healing process.

When someone is grieving, it can be powerful medicine to know someone cares and is thinking of them. Don’t hesitate to send a quick text or Facebook message, call, or send a letter via snail mail filled with encouraging words to a friend going through a tough time.

6. Find Tangible Ways to Help

One especially tough part of grieving is that the world seems to go on no matter what. But performing everyday tasks can take a herculean effort. This is a prime opportunity for you to step in and help. Bring over a meal, walk their dog, mow their lawn, or hire a cleaning service to come by once a week. It can be tempting to say, “Just let me know when you need me.” But it can be an additional burden to have to reach out and ask for help. In this case, don’t ask. Just do it.

7. Make a Connection

Perhaps you know someone going through a similar tough time or someone who has had a similar difficult experience in the past. If your friend is willing, connect the two friends. I know I found it incredibly helpful to be able to talk with someone who knew so much about what I was going through and feeling during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. It was like finding a kindred spirit; it made me feel less alone. If you can be the connector between grieving friends, you may profoundly impact both their lives.

Related: 9 Podcasts Hosted by Women That Will Totally Inspire You

8. Spend Quality Time Together

Do something you both enjoy for the heck of it. Grab a coffee. Go on a hike. Spending quality time together—not talking about or thinking about the grief and the emotional rollercoaster—can be a gift to your friend.

Even when you aren't sure what to say or do to comfort a loved one during a time of need, know that even seemingly small measures like lending an ear, delivering a home-cooked casserole, or writing encouraging notes can be incredibly meaningful.

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