A grieving friend or colleague often creates uncertainty and anxiety in our minds and can result in the friend not only grieving for the loss of a family member but also a large number of “friends” who are too uncomfortable to be with them. Despite the anxiety it is important to be with the grieving friend. It is not always possible to know what the correct thing to say is, but saying that you don’t know what to say, and staying with the friend is a very powerful message. Be prepared to listen carefully and to sit quietly as the person requires. Be positive but accept the tears that are part of grieving.
It is normal for a grieving person to feel down, to sleep poorly and not be able to concentrate. If it is interfering with studies you might want to recommend that they talk with their lecturer. However there are times when it is important to seek professional help. When the grieving is prolonged (more than 3-6 months with little improvement) or when the person starts talking of wanting to be with the dead person or more overtly of suicide then professional help should be sought. In the case of the threat of suicide, the best option is to accompany the person to a health service, counsellor, general practitioner or an emergency department.Waiting for appointments is not the best option.
A Grieving Student’s experience
A student returned to university after the suicide of her boyfriend. She felt as if the students moved out of her way as she walked towards the lecture theatre. One acquaintance however came up to her and said “I have no idea of what to say to you, but you look like you need a hug.” She then gave the grieving student a hug. The grieving student said afterwards that this was the most powerful event in helping her step forward with her grief.