How To Support A Grieving Friend Around Mother's Day
Sally Douglas and Imogen Carn
This article was written for Go-To by Sally Douglas and Imogen Carn, the brilliant co-hosts of The Good Mourning Podcast. Want to hear more from Sally and Imogen? Of course you do. Find them on Instagram here or head over to their website.
Mother’s Day is a time for celebrating all of the amazing women in our lives. But, it can be a less than celebratory time for someone who is grieving. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and you might have someone in your life who is grieving their mum or a mother figure, their child or perhaps an estranged relationship. You might have a mate who is really yearning to be a mum, and for them, Mother’s Day might feel extra difficult to navigate.
It can be bloody hard to know what to do or say when a friend is grieving or going through a tough time. It’s common to feel super awkward, or worry that they might not want to talk about their loss. You don’t have to fly in like a superhero and make the pain go away. There’s no cape required for grief support and there's no one size fits all to supporting someone who is feeling grief-y. But, there are some little (and very, very simple) ways that you can be there to help make Mother’s Day, and the lead up, a little bit easier for your mate.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Real Talk
Knowing what to say when someone is coping with loss is HARD. And awkward. And did we mention hard?! You might feel pressure to come up with something profound or poetic to say. Our advice is to ditch the flowery language and keep it real. It can be such a breath of fresh air for someone deep in grief to hear some honesty. Saying something like “I know it’s a really crap time of year for you and I wish you weren’t going through this. I want you to know I’m here for you if you want to cry on me / have a good rant / have me make you endless cups of tea / chat about your person.” Real talk can be powerful.
Know That Grief Isn’t A Two-Month Thing
After a loss, people rally around. Your grieving friend might’ve been cushioned by the support of others for the first few weeks, or even months. But as time goes by, life resumes and people can drop away. This is often when the person grieving needs support the most – the shock has worn off and they’re navigating life without their person. Know that grief doesn’t have an end date and your friend will be feeling the pain of their loss months, or years, on. It might become less intense over time, but it is always there in the background. Showing you understand this can mean so much.
Understand If They Cancel Plans
Yes, sure, having a mate flake on plans can be very annoying. But with your grieving friend, give them a bit of grace to be flaky AF. You might make a plan and they cancel, or you text them and they don’t reply. Don’t take it personally. Know that grief can vary in intensity from moment to moment, especially around difficult times like Mother’s Day. Instead of getting mad, one thing you can do to be an awesome support is to not give up (without being pushy, of course). Let them know that you’ll still be there and will continue to invite them to things, even if they don’t feel like it. Just keep reaching out. Be that friend who keeps checking in, and do it for longer than you think is necessary.
Say Nope To Platitudes (They Really Hurt)
What the heck is a platitude, you ask? Well, it’s a statement that people might use with all the best intentions to make someone feel better…because as humans that’s what we do, right?! “At least” is one of the worst offenders when it comes to platitudes, although it might seem like a simple statement.
“At least your mum saw you on your wedding day.”
“At least you got to experience being a mum.”
“At least you had your grandma for some of your life.”
Saying things like "at least…" may come from a good place, but it can make someone deep in grief feel like their pain is being minimised, or that their feelings aren’t seen or heard. You could be surprised to read this and think “crap…I’ve said a few of these things!” but hey, don’t stress. Just remember it for next time.
Try This Small Tweak In Your Language
Asking someone "how are you?” can be so second nature, we might not stop to think it can be a tough question for someone grieving. They might respond with "fine, thanks”, but really, they are probably far from okay. “Fine thanks” could actually mean that things are hard and that they could do with some extra support, but might not want to open up. What can be really helpful is when people ask how you really are. Try saying “how are you today?”. By adding today, you are giving the signal that you are willing to listen to how they are actually doing and that it’s safe to open up. When a griever is given the opportunity to be honest about their emotions, it can feel like THE BIGGEST relief.Thanks for being a great support person to your grieving friend this Mother’s Day. If you want some more inspiration to stick in your ears, we also have a Good Mourning podcast episode dedicated to how to support someone grieving.