Crisis Line (800) 892-8900

When A Friend Suffers A Loss

Helping a friend who is experiencing a traumatic loss.

The reality of the situation is that you are not going to take the pain away, but your loved one needs your support and understanding as they struggle through a confusing and painful time. There are some things you can do to help:

  • Offer support. Listen. Be honest. If you don’t know what to say, it’s okay to express that and let them know that you care about them.
  • Don’t avoid the topic of the loss. Let them know that you are aware of what happened. That tells them that you are willing to talk about it.
  • Be willing to allow for silence. If they are not ready to talk just sitting with your friend and holding his/her hand is a reassuring and comforting gesture.
  • Do not judge any of the feelings that your friend is expressing. All emotions are okay and he/she needs to get them out without feeling judged.
  • Offer to help out with normal daily activities such as grocery shopping, cooking, picking up and dropping off children, laundry, cleaning, answering the phone. Your friend is not likely able to recognize their own needs right now so just doing some of these things for them without them having to ask is often helpful.
  • Staying in touch over time and continuing to offer emotional support is very valuable. When the initial shock has worn off there is an expectation to get back to “normal” living. This is the most critical time for support because he/she has to learn to live life differently now.

When is additional help needed?

Many times people can get through the grief process with the support of friends and family and not need professional intervention. There are times when professional intervention is needed.

  • Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously. Get help immediately.
  • If seeing or hearing things that are not there at any time in the grief process.
  • If after a few weeks, he/she is still not able to return to work or is not functioning at home.
  • Inappropriate use of drugs or alcohol.
  • If after a few months, your friend is still feeling very hopeless or the grief is not lifting, additional help may be needed.

It is sometimes difficult to bring up the need for additional help, but being honest about what you are observing and letting him/her know that you are concerned is important. If you are ever in doubt about the need for additional help, please call the Crisis Line at 1­-800-­892-­8900 and we will try to guide you in the right direction.

Normal reactions to traumatic events

Reactions to trauma are unique and many people have never experienced these reactions before. Please remember that there are normal and predictable reactions to very abnormal events. These are some of things you may experience. Remember these symptoms are time-limited and will diminish in the days or weeks ahead. If they persist past 4 to 6 weeks, you may want to seek help.

Physical ReactionsCognitive ReactionsEmotional Reactions
FatigueDifficulty ConcentratingFear
NightmaresDifficulty Making DecisionsGuilt
HyperactivityDifficulty Solving ProblemsEmotional Numbing or Over Sensitivity
Startled ReactionsFlashbacksAnxiety
Health Problems (e.g. digestive problems, headaches)Inability to Attach Importance to Anything Other Than IncidentFeelings of Helplessness
Insomnia or HypersomniaDifficulty completing sentencesAmnesia For the Event
Under Activity or slowed reactionsMisplacing itemsAnger (blaming, irritability, violent thoughts)

Things to try:

  • Structure your time; keep busy.
  • Do not try and numb the pain with overuse of alcohol and drugs.
  • Reach out to other people; Spend time with others and talk about your feelings.
  • Give yourself permission to feel depressed, overwhelmed.
  • Keep a journal and write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Don’t make big life change decisions for several months. Continue your normal pattern of activities as much as you can
  • Maintain good nutrition
  • Make as many daily decisions as possible that will give you a feeling of control over your life.