What to do when a friend is grieving — and you don’t know how to help.

There has been a lot of death in my life, lately.

Literal death, as well as emotional, “end of an era” death (sudden job loss, unexpected moving plans, break-ups, and so on).

What is the best thing to do when a friend is reeling from a deep loss?

It’s a tricky question to answer because there is no universal “correct” answer for everyone.

Here is a good place to begin:

Ask, “How can I be a good friend to you right now?”

A couple similar / alternate questions:

“How can I be a good husband / wife / partner / etc. to you right now?”

“How can I support you right now?”

“How would you like to be supported right now?”

“What would feel good right now?”

“What would make your life a bit easier right now?”

Gently encourage your friend to tell you exactly what they want and don’t want.

One person might say, “I would really appreciate handwritten letters, but please refrain from calling right now. I’m getting inundated with phone calls and I feel overwhelmed.”

Another person might say, “I’d love for you to come over and eat a meal with me. I would like some company. But I don’t want to talk about what happened yet.”

Another might say, “A sandwich. Delivered to my office. And a hug.”

If your friend says, “I don’t know,” then you can make a loving proposition.

“Could I drop off some books for you to read while you’re recuperating?” “I’d be happy to look over your résumé.” “Want to watch a funny movie?” “How about a massage?”

If they say, “No thanks” then gracefully back off — for now.

You can follow up by saying, “If you think of anything, later, I am one text away.”

Grief is deeply personal, so a one-size-fits-all flowers-and-a-Hallmark-card approach might not be what your friend needs.

So, if you’re not sure how to help? Just ask.

And once they tell you? Deliver. Rise up. Don’t flake. Don’t leave them hanging.

I let down a friend of mine, not too long ago, who was grieving and really needed support. I gave some support. Not enough. I got distracted with my own life, my own issues, my own “busy schedule,” blah blah whatever, stopped checking in. I failed to rise to the occasion. I still regret it.

I missed an opportunity to be a really good friend.

Try not to miss yours.

It doesn’t take much to show someone, through your words and actions:

“You are not alone. I am here. You are loved.”

PS. If you are heartbroken and need some support, here are a few resources to check out:

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is a beautiful book for hard times.

Second Firsts, an online community and blog for people who are “starting over.”

Or, if you need professional counseling, I highly recommend my friend and colleague Dr. Suzanne Gelb. Go get some love.