How to help a friend who has lost a parent, by someone with first hand experience

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time. After my Mum passed away, it took me a long time to adjust to life without her, and if it weren’t for my friends and family around me, I don’t think I’d have coped as well as I have. Unfortunately, so many others lose parents, and as the friend of someone who lost a parent, it can be extremely difficult to find the right words to help comfort them. I’ve decided to write a post about my own experiences to hopefully give some insight and possibly some advice on how to comfort a grieving friend. Everyone’s experiences are completely different, and what I experienced may be the opposite to what someone else went through. But I hope to shed some light on the life of a person who lost her parent at a young age, and what was going on inside my head, while I blocked the rest of the world out.

My Experience

I don’t think it would be right to try and tell you how I wanted to be helped without first telling you the exact experience I had, and so, this was what my family went through…

On April 6th 2015, my best friend, my Mum, lost her battle with cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years previously, and soon after went into remission, but unfortunately, was diagnosed with a brain tumour a while later. At the same time, I was just finishing sixth form and had been accepted into University, and as a young 18 year old, I found it hard to process what was actually going on. In my head, I just assumed that my Mum would eventually get better, and life would go back to normal. In hindsight I think this was my way of coping with what had happened. I went off to uni in September 2014, and tried to get stuck into the year. This was extremely difficult considering what was going on at home, and I frequently came home at weekends to visit my family. It wasn’t until the new year that reality finally hit me. I was on the way into uni when I received some news from my Dad. My Mum’s cancer was terminal, and she was given a few months left to live. Shortly after this, I stopped attending uni and came home to spend as much time with my Mum as possible. She was moved to live in a Hospice, where she was cared for 24/7, and I spent every last day by her side.

On the morning of the 6th, I heard the news. Having to tell his three children that their Mum had just passed away must have been the most heart breaking situation my Dad has ever and will ever be in. No one should have to do what my Dad did.

As I said, each loss is different. I knew my Mum was ill, and I watched her slip away from me as her cancer took over. For others, their loss may have been completely unexpected and out of the blue in a freak accident. But the one thing all of us have in common, is that we lost one of the most important people in our lives. How do you cope with that?

Coping

After the initial shock, I chose to keep myself to myself for a while. I stayed at home and grieved in my own way. I pulled myself together long enough to let family and friends know that my Mum’s battle had been lost and then left my phone in my room while I grieved with my family. Eventually, I stepped up and took on my role as the eldest sibling to help my Dad, and make sure he realised he wasn’t alone in this.

As the saying goes, “you never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option”. I don’t know who said this, but I can’t emphasise how relatable this quote is. been strong wasn’t a choice, it was just something I knew I had to do. What happened over the next few months is so hazy to me now. I kept myself busy, surrounded myself with my loved ones and kept my head up, the way my Mum would have wanted me to.

During this time (and actually ever since), my Dad was my hero. He never put himself first and would constantly check to see how my siblings and I were coping. I have never admired anyone more. He lost the love of his life, and he put others before himself. I know some people might read this and think, well ,what do you expect? We’re his children and I get that. But if I ever find someone who loves me even half the amount my Dad loved my Mum, I would consider myself the luckiest woman in the world. I think it was this strength that I saw in my Dad, that helped me more than anything during this time, and maybe that’s why I put on such a brave face. I was praying my family would somehow be ok.

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The advice to other family members

Losing my Mum reminded me how important family is. To mention yet another cliche (sorry!), you don’t truly know what you have until it’s gone. I miss my Mum every single second of each day, but my family are my support system that hold me up.

As a family member, I think it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone in this. Your family can be the strongest support system despite what they’re going through. When you have no other choice than to get up and be as emotionally strong as you possibly can, I promise you, your strength will surprise you, especially when it involves caring for your family.

Feeling isolated is very easy, but what I kept reminding myself was that, although I lost my Mum, and my own special relationship with her, so did my brother and my sister. My Dad lost his wife. My Nan lost her only child. I wasn’t alone. The grief I felt and still do feel is felt by every member of my family, and it should be spoken about – it shouldn’t be held in and kept to yourself. I personally am a very private person when it comes to my emotions. I refused to talk about how I felt no matter how much anyone probed me, but everyone is different. Some people release their grief through anger, others cry for days on end. But in the end it doesn’t matter, because your family want to help you. They know more than anyone what you’re thinking and feeling and it’s important to let them in. I look back now and wish I’d spoken about how I felt more. I still don’t like talking about how I feel, but I’m learning. Just letting the words that are drowning you inside fall out of you mouth can sometimes be the most liberating feeling. A problem shared is a problem halved.

The advice to friends

Let me tell you now that your friends REALLY are the family you get to choose, and if you choose wisely, you will never feel alone. Not one of my friends stepped back and made me feel alone – they all stepped up to the mark and made sure I always had someone there for me. (Personal message – thank you guys so much, you know who you are).

As a friend of someone who has lost their parent (or anyone for that matter), finding the right words of comfort is very difficult. There aren’t really any words that can make them feel better, but there are words that can remind them that they are loved and looked after.

Reassurance is probably the most important thing a friend can do. Constantly reassure your friend that they aren’t alone, and that when they need you, you’ll be waiting for them with a shoulder to cry on. My friends, once I told them the news, each sent me their own personal condolences. My Mum was an amazing woman, and it makes me happy to remember the relationship she had with some of my friends. She would welcome anyone into her home as if it was their own, and I think, on some level, the loss I felt, although no where near as big, was also felt by most of my friends. After this, they gave me my time and left me to my family. This isn’t something you should feel obliged to do, but looking back I actually really appreciated the space they gave me. It made me feel like I had my time to myself, and even though they weren’t constantly messaging me to ask if I was ok, I knew they were there when I wanted to talk because they had each reassured me. I needed that time for myself and they respected that.

One thing my friends did for me was possibly one of the best and most loving things they could have done. They created a book of images of me, them, my Mum and I, and a few personal messages. Such a small gift has gone such a long way. Now, whenever I have my sad moments, and I do very often, I open that book and look back on all the memories we shared together, and my sadness quickly changes to happy reminiscing. It also reminded me that while they were giving me my space, they hadn’t forgotten about me. So keep reminding your friend of the good times. Think back to moments you remember them laughing, may that include their parent or not. Your friend will appreciate your attempt to distract them, even if it’s only for a little while.

You may think that words are just words, and they never seem enough, but words are the most valuable resource we have. Words can be used to heal, to distract, to show love, to remind, to reassure, to strengthen. It seems simple, but I didn’t know how strong I really was until my friends kept telling me how much they admired my strength. Words are everything. The sad truth is that nothing will ever be enough, and nothing will ever be the same, but the words you choose to use in this crucial time will set a framework for your friend to hold onto when they feel at their absolute lowest. Your words provide the hope they need to remember that things will get better, and they won’t always feel as lost as they do right now.

As a friend, you have to try as hard as you can to fill that void in their hearts. You have to remind them that they are loved and you know that they’re hurting, but they aren’t alone. Nothing will ever fill the empty space in my life now, but I appreciate every attempt my friends make to remind me that although I have lost so much love in my life, the love that still surrounds me is strong. The love my friends and family show me every single day, through a text, or a simple ‘I love you’, carries me.

But, do not fret if words aren’t your strong point. Actions can be just as powerful. When your friend wants to break down and cry, sometimes not saying anything at all can help. I don’t cry about my loss very much around my friends, but when/if I do, being held by one of my friends is all I want and need. The feeling of being held is one of the most reassuring actions you can take, so give out all the free hugs! Suggest going somewhere like a coffee shop, get some fresh air, or just offer to sit and be with them – anything that might take them out of their heads for a while. They need you.

Your friend might not tell you right now how much she appreciates everything you’re doing for them, but trust me they appreciate you.

Finally, a message to you

To those of you out they that may have recently lost a parent, I have a small message for you. It’s ok to hurt, it is ok to cry and it is ok to breakdown – but don’t stay there. That low feeling that you’re going through is the worst feeling someone can feel, but time is a healer, and the support system you have around you are equally as important. The hurt won’t go away, but you can try and replace it with happy memories and love. Let your friends and family in, they’re there to help you. Don’t keep it all to yourself. I know it hurts, and I know it’s not easy, but be strong – I believe in you.2319804f63f129e1f4b54e9590355919

One last thing!

Despite this blog being about what to say when your friend loses a parent, this advice can still apply for any loss. I sadly lost my Nan, my Mum’s Mum earlier this year, only one year after losing my Mum. Suddenly I had to go through all of those emotions again, but this time round, I knew that those around me were there for me more so than I knew previously. My Nan was an amazing woman, she helped raise me and my siblings, and losing her broke what was left of my heart. My bond with her was as strong as my bond with my Mum, and the loss was just as great. There are many different losses people can go through, but what remains constant is the support of you guys – the friends and family.

These are my thoughts, ideas and emotions towards an extremely difficult topic, and I understand that some people going through similar situations might completely disagree with me and that’s ok.Your thoughts and feelings are equally as important. But for those of you that are similar to me and my friends, I hope this helps you. I hope I can bring a small amount of positivity into your lives by sharing this.

Keep spreading love!x

This post is dedicated to my Mum, Nesta, and my Nan, Meeleen. May you rest in perfect peace x x x