At Cheeriodicals, we focus on cheering people up but in some cases “cheering up” isn’t the best course of action. Sometimes people need sympathy and understanding more than cheer. We developed the Sympathy Cheeriodical for this purpose. When a friend is broken hearted over the loss of a loved one, it’s easy to feel helpless. Often we think we’re doing the right thing by attempting to cheer them up, showing the good things or letting them know that they should attempt to move forward. Sympathetic as we may be, those attempts tend to pressure them and leave them feeling invalidated. Giving a gift to someone you love when he or she is suffering a loss should be carefully thought out.

Here are a few ways that can help you help your friends when they experience grief with or without a sympathy gift.

1. Acknowledge the stages of grief. Most people hurting from a loss will experience these phases, frequently in no particular sequence and in some cases repeating stages: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. Each stage is necessary and healthy. The more familiar you are with these stages, the better prepared you’ll be to support your friend.

2. Give them time. The person grieving may struggle for longer than expected. If this occurs, no matter how aggravating or frightening it may be for you, allow them to grieve for however long they need to, understanding you won’t judge them for it. It’s difficult to determine how much time you should give if your friend isn’t moving through the phases of grief over time. There may be other issues at hand but giving more time to grieve is seldom a bad thing.

3. Variables of grief. One person’s grief is never exactly the same as another’s. Saying, “I’ve been there” is rarely helpful or true. The diversity of the grieving experience consist of the cause and length of death, the emotional strength of the grieving person, what their previous experiences have been, the size their support network is and their relationship to the person lost. Be understanding of how these factors can change their experience of grief from your own or someone else you know.

4. Offer the bereaved ways to memorialize. In addition to remembering those who have died, memorial services and funerals are held to give support and provide closure to the grieving. We can also remember in some other ways, like having remembrance gatherings, planting trees, or creating an art piece.

5. Avoid telling them that they are strong. We are often predisposed to commend the person who appears to be coping emotionlessly with a loss. The problem is that we should allow them to be vulnerable and human sometimes too. It’s good to allow the passing of a loved one to hurt – it should hurt and that should be ok to us and all around us. After all, there’s strength in letting out your emotions from time to time.

6. Ask what they need. It’s typical to feel you can guess what your friend needs based on what you may need in their position. Because we’re all unique, it is best to ask them what you can do for them. If they say “nothing” or “I don’t know,” resist the desire to walk away in your frustration or uncertainty. Simply present your encouragement any way you can and let them know that you will be available when they think of anything.

7. Continue to check in on them. At the time of a funeral, many people offer support and help to the grieving person. But as time passes people’s lives continue and they generally forget to act on their offerings of support and help. Be the person who doesn’t forget. You don’t have to give all your time, but your compassion will be appreciated and will provide untold encouragement. If you can’t be there for someone in person, a gift like our Sympathy Cheeriodical might be a way to let them know you’re still thinking of them and available for them.

8. Suggest help. There is only so much a friend or family member can do for someone who is suffering a loss without putting too much strain on themselves. Gently suggest seeking therapeutic help to give them a specific way to face their loss.

Finally, keep in mind that grief is not just experienced with death. It may be through losing a job, a divorce, the loss of an ideal or goal and so much more. Loss is a challenging part of our lives to work through and your role as a friend is both unique and vital. A gift of encouragement in any of these cases may help your friend during the grieving process, but just being a friend is usually enough.