It is hard to know what to say or do when a friend is in pain and struggling with the death of a parent. He is going through a myriad of emotions and needs people to surround him with love and care, but some supportive actions are more helpful than others. Although you should not try to rush your friend’s grief, overidentify with her struggles or fix her, several concrete actions are likely to comfort your friend. Remember that no two people grieve in the same way, so be open to meeting any expressed needs that you are able to.
Comfort your friend with your time and presence. You do not need to have the perfect words or even to say anything at all. Your presence can be the most powerful form of support you can provide to someone who is grieving the loss of a parent. Sit next to him, get comfortable with silence and simply be with him as he grieves.
Help your friend with practical things so that she can focus on her emotional life. Bring meals, do the laundry, sweep the floors or watch her children so that she has some time to process, feel, heal and move forward. If you are unsure of what needs to be done, ask her to make a short list for you and start there.
Listen to your friend when he wants to share his feelings or memories of the deceased parent. One of the difficult things about grieving is that people tend to feel uncomfortable when the bereaved shares feelings and memories. You can be the supportive person who provides space for that sharing without things becoming awkward, and without trying to fix a hurt that cannot be healed.
Actively be supportive even after the first month has passed. When a parent dies, the bereaved often receives a wave of support in the form of memorial services, flowers, food and cards. After that, things may get lonely and the bereaved sometimes struggles with pain that is still fresh. When the quiet settles in, resolve to make an extra effort to be there for your friend. Listen, keep your friend company, help her clean out her parent’s living space, visit the memorial marker with her or do other things that let her know that you care, remember her parent and understand that she is still grieving.