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Grief and Loss

Worried Friend (Friend) 03 Oct '16

Each month we feature a Common Advice Blog piece. The Common Ground Panel of professionals answer one of your questions on how to support a young person dealing with difficult situations in their lives or a young person experiencing a mental illness. This month we talk about supporting a friend through the grief of losing a loved one.


"Hi, I am a 15-year- old that lives in Rangiora. One of my best friends has always been really close with her nana, but her nana just passed away over the weekend. I knew her nana but not really well. She’s really upset, and I don’t know how to help her because I’ve never lost someone close to me. I don’t know what to say to make it better, or even just how to help her. What should I say?"

Common Ground Panel Responses

Dr Ainsleigh Cribb-Su’a

Dr Ainsleigh Cribb-Su’a says:

Sorry to hear that your friend has lost her Nana whom she was very close too. It is never easy to lose someone important to you in your life. I’m glad for her that she has such a caring friend in you, willing and wanting to support. It is important to understand that people experience grief differently and there is no “correct” way to grieve.

There is no one way that a young person experiences grief and they can sometimes react strongly. Expressing emotion is a healthy and normal reaction to grief and loss. To the person experiencing the grief, it does not feel natural or normal because it can be difficult to control emotions, thoughts and physical feelings associated with the death. Your friend may feel at times, out of control and may become overwhelmed or frightened. As a support person for your best friend, it is really important that you keep yourself emotionally strong during this time. Sometimes in the midst of grief people can behave or say things that are out of character. It is important that if this happens with your friend,that you understand that heightened distress and emotion can alter a person’s ability to think straight.

Try not to be afraid of asking your friend to tell you about her Nana. Yes, she may get upset. Perhaps you could ask your friend if there are some ways that you could help her to honour her Nana’s memory. For example, making a slideshow of Nana’s life; doing something creative such as writing a song; making something that represents Nana’s life; writing a journal of the many stories. Remembering and consciously processing the loss of a loved one is an important part of grieving, even if it leads to strong emotions and some distress at the time. Generally, over time the pain of the grief lessens as the new reality of life without the physical presence of the loved one continues. Grief never ends but it does change in character and intensity.


Renee from Youthline says:

I am warmed by your thoughtfulness and desire to help, and make things better for your friend.

Even though you haven’t lost someone before, you have noticed how upset your friend is from her loss, and you want to be there for her.

We don’t have to have been through something to show that we care. In fact, sometimes people don’t want to hear about your experience, they just want to know that you’re there.

It reminds me of that saying, which you may have heard before “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So be encouraged - Caring in itself, can be enough.

Your friend may be sad or upset for quite some time, this could deepen your friendship, or it may feel tough as your friend may not be quite herself. Allow each other space as you navigate through new territory.

Remember you don’t carry this on your own. She has her family as well, and perhaps other friends to support her through this time.

If you are concerned that your friend is not coping, you could check in with a trusted, caring adult in your community. Maybe a school counsellor, a family member, or a teacher.

A community of carers helps to keep everyone safe. We are sorry Rangiora for the loss of one of your own.

Jono and Ana

Jono and Ana from Mental Health Foundation say:

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from someone who’s been through it before like family or other friends, to find ideas on what could be helpful. You could ask your friend what she needs, and what she would like to do at this time. Youthline (0800 376 633) can help you come up with ideas.

Did you know that Skylight can send you a free support pack of resources in the mail with info for you and your friend about dealing with grief? 0800 299 100

The Lowdown (www.thelowdown.co.nz) has some really good info on how to be a good friend in hard times, a good reminder from them is that sometimes just hanging out and doing the same old really helps.

Finally, make sure you’re looking after yourself too. If you start to get tired or too stressed out about it all talk to someone, look after yourself, and keep doing the things that you love.


Jenny from Skylight says:

Losing a loved one is always painful and her ‘upset’ is part of grief which is her reaction to loss. Grief is a natural, normal process and can affect every part of our life, from our thoughts, reactions, feelings and behaviours.

Some of these reactions include sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief, confusion, numbness, difficulty sleeping and/or eating, guilt and exhaustion. These reactions help us adjust to what has happened, but is pretty overwhelming and feels easier when we have a friend’s support.

Most of us struggle to find the right words to say, but it isn’t what you say, it’s that you say something. Like:

  • “I’m sorry. I know you were very close to your nana.”
  • “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know that I am here for you and it is OK for you to cry or be angry if you want to.”

Ways to spend time with your friend and help her right now:

  • Ask her to tell you stories about her nana.
  • Let her know that you are there to just do normal things like: see a movie, play games, anything she would like to do.
  • She will need down time from her grief. Physical activity and laughter help to relieve stress and anger.
  • Check in with her by calling or texting to see how she is doing.
  • Maybe suggest the idea of making a scrapbook of photos and memories of her grandmother

Everyone grieves differently, there are no right and wrong ways to grieve and it is important to respect all the ways she might grieve.

Each month we feature a Common Advice Blog piece. The Common Ground Panel of professionals answer one of your questions on how to support a young person dealing with difficult situations in their lives or a young person experiencing a mental illness. Got a question to ask our panel? You can ask us here »

*Please note, by commenting on this post, you agree for it to be used by Common Ground online and offline to help encourage a conversation about supporting young people.
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