20-40-60 Etiquette: Search for cues when supporting grieving friend
QUESTION: When you receive news of your friend’s father’s death, what is the right time to visit? Do you go to her house immediately? How should I best support my friend in the short term? Long term?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Everyone mourns differently. That being said, it would be helpful to give constant support and have conversations with your friend. I’m not saying everyday by any means. Your friend will be able to tell you at first what they need. Simply ask and be there.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Usually, as news of a death spreads, people gather fairly quickly at a relative’s home, and it is entirely appropriate — and welcome — to drop by to pay your respects, bringing a card or a meal or something else to comfort the family. This is a tough question, but sometimes the best thing you can do is show up for your friend and be there in their grief, taking cues from him or her about how much to do or how long to stay. Try not to ask in the short term what you can do to help because your friend is likely too overwhelmed in the chaos to know what to ask for. Just think of something — a meal, a phone call to check on the family, a memory you can share about their loved one or an invitation out after some time has passed — and do it. Later you can ask what he or she needs.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It is hard to determine what to do at first. Sometimes the family sets a time for everyone to visit. Drop by if you are close friends and see what might be needed. You can tell if you need to stay around to help or just be with her. Go to the funeral.
Long term: Check in with her periodically and make sure she knows that she can rejoin activities as soon as she is ready. Or plan something for the two of you, just to talk. That way she might tell you how you might best support her.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Kirsten Cash, speech-language pathologist: The answers to all of your questions depend on the nature of your friendship. If you are very close, your reaction will be different than if you are more casual friends. Additionally, your response might be dependent upon the nature of the deceased’s death: sudden/expected/illness/accident, etc.
I think the best way to choose your answers is to first pray for guidance in making the right choices. If you are not a religious person, take a moment to decide how to react. Make sure your actions are done with genuine love and concern for your friend. People handle death in many ways. You have to trust knowing your friend and be open to the cues that let you know what she is needing from you.
In the short term, the best support you can offer is to let her know you are there for her. If possible, attend the funeral. In the long term, communicate to your friend that you want to support her and would like her guidance on how you can. A lot of times, people are ready to get back to “normal” after dealing with the death of a loved one, so doing your usual friendship actions is likely your best course: just be her friend.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.