Grief is the emotional experience resulting from loss. When you first experience a loss, you may feel an initial state of shock, where you struggle with processing the emotions you are feeling and with integrating those emotions and thoughts into your here-and-now experience.
Because each relationship is a unique, one-of-a-kind creation, made by two unique, one-of-a-kind individuals, the loss of that relationship produces a unique response in each individual. So, no one can tell you what you "should" be feeling or how you "should" cope with your grief. Your experience is your experience.
How you feel is valid, personal, and real. Your experience doesn’t compare to others - others did not have your one-of-a-kind relationship. Allow yourself to feel what you feel (or don't feel), without trying to "contain" or "control" how you present yourself to those significant people who are there for you.
Our perspectives on grief are both professional and personal, because our son died at age 17 from a progressive neurological disorder, so we’ve experienced first-hand what is helpful and what is not. Here are some responses we would suggest to provide support for someone who is grieving:
Be present, don’t disappear.
The most helpful people to us in our grieving process were those who showed up without any need to “make us feel better” (which is more for the helper than for the grieving individual). They didn’t talk; they were just there with us. They sat beside us and were comfortable with our silence and our pain. Even in the weeks and months after his death, when many had moved on with their lives, our hearts were most touched when some would just show up and be present with us.
Don’t ask what they need from you or say, “Call us if you need us.”
If you want to do something for the grieving person, such as taking care of their laundry or mowing their grass, just do it. If you wait to be asked, it won’t happen. The grieving individual has no idea what they need, and even if they did know, they most likely wouldn’t be able to voice their needs coherently.
Be aware of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
The times around special occasions are full of joyous memories, which for someone grieving can be excruciatingly painful. Call the grieving person both before and on those days. Plan something pleasant where you can share time with your friend. Some individuals want to honor their loved one on the anniversary of their death or on their birthdays and being willing to share in those experiences can be very meaningful.