Turning to Friends to Aid with Grief

Losing a spouse or partner brings not only grief, but also a host of new responsibilities around the house, and with the children. Tasks that once had the benefit of two adults are now your sole responsibility. This can be extremely challenging and overwhelming.

While friends and family want to help, they don’t know what to do. They need your permission to help, and guidance on how. When looking at your support network, it is important to recognize that not all people feel comfortable (or are good at) offering the same types of support.

Some people are good listeners and want to hear your story, share your memories, concerns, and fears over and over again. These are important people to have available, as talking through these issues is essential to your grief journey.

Some people  are doers; they come in, take charge and get things done. They may feel uncomfortable talking about emotions, or hearing about your grief, but they are your best resource when the lawn needs mowing, the gutters need cleaning, or the kids need a ride to school.

Some people are good for respite. They may not be good when it comes to talking about the heavy stuff, nor may they be the ‘doers’ in your life, but they’re the ones that always make you laugh! They’re the people that take your mind off your worries, give you a break from your grief, and give you permission to have fun.

It is important to recognize which friends and family fall into each category. Asking a doer to listen, or a lister to be a respite person, and so on, will become uncomfortable for those trying to support you. This discomfort  could potentially push people away. Whereas, if you can put the right people in the right roles, where your friends/family can thrive in their support, you will have a stronger support network around you, helping you in your life after loss.

Activity: Assigning Roles
Here is a simple activity to identify which members of your support network fall into each category. Write down the names of the people you can count on for support – consider friends, family, church members, co-workers, fellow parents, neighbors, etc.

Place the following letters next to each person’s name to represent their strengths, and the ways they may be able to help. You can give more than one letter to each name.

L= Good Listeners
(People who never seem to get tired of listening when you need to talk)

D= Doers
(People who take charge and enjoy actively doing things to help out)

R= Respite
(People who are fun to be around, make you laugh, and help take your mind off of things)

If there are friends that are hard to “categorize,” give them options on how to help – “come over for dinner to chat, or come by mid-afternoon and we’ll do some yard work together.”

You also may discover that some people on your list end up with more than one letter. While these are valuable people to support you, avoid relying too heavily on any one person for fear of burnout.

Consider your list regularly, and make a point to reach out to different people for different types of support based on the category within which they fall. Tap into your entire network – trust that those closest to you want to help in their own unique way, but need your guidance on exactly what to do.

Photo Credit.


  1. kerry neuberger said on March 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm ... #

    I like the idea of labeling the list of friends. The difficult thing is I am blessed with an amazing abundance of friends and family, they all want to help, they don’t want to “push” themselves in and on us. They would do anything, at anytime –

    But what about when you don’t really know what it is you need?

    How can you explain to them, with out hurting their feelings or making them feel their help isn’t wanted – when what is needed isn’t something they can help with? They can’t be that other person sleeping with you – they can’t be that person you’d make eye contact with across the room – they can’t be that voice that you so need to hear.

    Showing up with the bottles of wine – and all the wonderful amazing things do help -but it’s all the things above that I need, no one else can help with that. & That’s the part that is hard to explain to them.

  2. L said on September 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm ... #

    I don’t have or never had a support system. Everyone was so busy with their own lives and other family issues. Luckily, I have good health insurance and was able to go to weekly sessions with a therapist for nearly 6 months to help me with my grief. I felt that people thought that I didn’t have a right to grieve. My husband and I were separated, not divorced for about 4 years and then he died. I had to re-enter the workforce, and was so busy with work and training, that I never got to really grieve the separation or get answers from him as to why he didn’t work harder to avoid a separation. Then he ends up dying. He was my husband, he was the father of my children, and even though there were some tough times, I still had a right to grieve and needed to grieve. No one seemed to understand that. I took care of his funeral arrangements in a Christian way and I am now making plans to get a headstone for his grave. If I didn’t care about him & consider him to be my husband, I could have just walked away from the planning and from the financial responsibility of the funeral and headstone. I feel that family just turned their back on me and the children, both his family and mine. His family doesn’t talk to me because they feel that they should have been the ones to gain from his death. It doesn’t matter to me that they feel that way because it just shows how selfish they are and they don’t comprehend that whatever gain there was will benefit our children. Just venting now, my support system never existed and never seemed concerned. I just pay a $25 co-payment whenever I go to my counselor to talk about it. My own mother doesn’t even understand, she’s too busy always coming to the aid of other family members, she is so emotionally unavailable to me.

  3. Faisal Rehman said on April 8, 2013 at 8:11 pm ... #

    What about if one has no one left at all. How to come out of the grief situation, when you have no one around you to talk to or look up to…May be just keeping oneself busy and mind diverted, but a time do comes, when the mind becomes grief-full again

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