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10 Things to Remember When a Friend is Suffering a Loss

10 Things to Remember When a Friend is Suffering a Loss

When someone you know loses a loved one, it’s difficult to know what to say. Do we risk saying too much and upsetting them, or saying too little and isolating them? It’s a tricky tight rope but the key is being there. We can’t tell you what to say to help because there are no magic words. Honestly, it is better to be the friend who said the wrong thing, not the friend who said nothing at all.

1. Don’t let it become taboo.

Friendships can be tattered by that unspoken support, the repressed elephant cowering in the corner of the room. Relieve the tension, be part of your friend’s life, and you’ll both feel closer no matter how it goes.

2. If you can’t come up with the right words, make a kind gesture.

Some people aren’t the best at communication and can’t quite wrap their head around the verbalising of emotions. So why not fix the broken window for them, clean their house while they’re away planning the funeral, or simply just show up for a coffee as often as you can? The little things go a long way when our friends are suffering.

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3. Be cool.

Everyone else is acting weird so be the reliable friend, be normal. Your friend has been through a lot and could do with some normalcy and a return to routine. So be yourself and remind them that life hasn’t completely changed, because you haven’t.

4. When in doubt, hug.

Human contact can do wonders. So offer that tight hug and show that you are there and feeling deep empathy for your friend in their loss. Because sometimes it’s as simple as that.

5. Don’t panic.

Because there is no right thing to say. There’s no sentence you can use to fix everything, to make things easy, to make your friend all better and happy. It’s a rocky road and there’s nothing you can do to take the pain away. So the pressure’s off and don’t be worried if something you say triggers emotions. It’s part of the process.

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6. Surround them with their favorite things.

Flowers, chocolates, a good movie, whatever the order of the day, make sure you remind them that they are known and loved and very much alive.

7. Be a breath of fresh air.

Teach your friend the new karate moves you’ve learned, tell them about your busy day, or just talk about your pets. Don’t be too ecstatic but keep their brain occupied with new things.

8. Keep them active.

Encourage your friend to come for a run, to go for a cycle, to beat you at the gym circuit. The blood has to keep pumping so those endorphins can multiply and save the day.

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9. Talk about HeWhoMustNotBeNamed.

And no, I’m not talking about Voldemort. It’s easy to assume that the widow will break down at the mention of her husband’s name, that the orphan will flinch at the mention of parents, that any reference to the departed could remind your suffering friend of the loss and awake new realms of pain. But your friend already thinks about said lost partner, parent, sibling, all day. It’s not a post-it note that gets forgotten, it’s a constant shadow, so talking about it is therapeutic and calming.

10. Don’t flinch.

It’s easily done. Doling out emotional support and sentimental cliches is a tiring and difficult business and our natural reflex is often to change the subject and run away from hard conversations. Don’t flinch – your friend is bound to try and bury their head in the sand or run away from what has happened and it’s up to you to help them break this trend – rather than giving in to it.

Feature photo credit: Ed Gregory

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Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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