How do I help someone I don't know very well get over the death of their brother?
April 28, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I help someone I don't know very well get over the death of their brother?

A close friend of mine died two months ago, after a long illness. I did what little I could to help, mostly spending time with him. I've maintained some contact with his family after his funeral, and his sister (who was the primary carer) is taking it hard. I'm not familiar with grief and loss, and I do understand that people work through this at their own pace, but she seems somewhat "stuck". Every conversation with her is basically the same and focuses on the loss.

I'd like to help her cope with this, but I hardly know her. (This is probably one of the reasons why the conversations have one topic.) What can I say or do that would be useful? Or is there anything?

(Posting anonymously as I don't want her to know that I'm this concerned.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total)
Remember that grief varies by person, and that two months is nothing for something like this - also remember that she will never get over it. When I've been 'struck' with grief, the only thing that helped was spending time with others close to the person I'd loss (in this case, you) even though I didn't know them well - because I felt like we could just talk about the person we'd lost. You are doing most everything you can and if you can continue having these conversations they are helpful for her. The only thing I would suggest is to try to veer towards reminiscing about awesome times with your friend? Things that weren't helpful were comments about fate, everything for a reason, out of pain, why aren't you over this it has been two weeks already, etc., etc. for what it is worth.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 3:36 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

when the topic goes to loss, try to steer it towards celebrating his life instead of dwelling on his death

2 months isn't a very long time for someone who has lost a sibling - especially considering she was the caregiver for a long illness. she not only lost someone she loved, she also lost her purpose.

mention your concern to someone who knows her better.

and finally, is your desire to help her cope a continuation of the friendship and help you gave her brother? which is to say - maybe you focusing on her grief is a way to not focus on your own...
posted by nadawi at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

What can I say or do that would be useful?

Listen, let her talk about her grief, but also look to identify common interests and gently engage her in them by suggesting activities, books, etc. Do not suggest to her that, as you phrased it here, she needs to "get over" the death of her loved one. I realize you didn't intend that phrasing to be insensitive, that quite to the contrary you are doing your best to be kind, generous and supportive. It's been more than a year since the loss of my child and, yup, I still talk about her a lot.

My experience of grief was that I was okay for the first 6 weeks or so, and that things got worse thereafter (for a period of several months, after which time they began to improve). If your friend is like me - not by any means a given - this is the time she needs the support. This is not nearly time for pressure to move on, if such a time ever arises.

I blogged a couple of months back about an advice columnist who was answering just some of these kinds of questions - here is a link to the advice site (note: this link is not to my own blog, but to the source material I wrote about). I disagreed with many of the author's comments, and felt they were unduly insensitive to the healthy emotional need to talk about a lost loved one. But it may be worthwhile reading.

Perhaps encourage her to blog or journal. I would not have made it through my life as it existed over the past 2 years without blogging. I also found a grief counselor VERY helpful and effective.
posted by bunnycup at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please let her connect with you over her loss and be sad. Two months is not a very long time. I don't think that being really sad about it means that she's necessarily stuck.

Maybe with each conversation, let her talk about how sad she is for a while, but then ask her about positive things, e.g. has she gone out to do something enjoyable, a movie, shopping, whatever. If she seems like she doesn't get out much, it would be kind of you to go to a movie or show with her just to get some positive energy in her life.
posted by tk at 3:59 PM on April 28, 2010

I agree with nadawi. Two months is still relatively early in the grieving stage for a close relative, especially one who was a caregiver.

Also, if you are not that close, I probably wouldn't intervene on her grieving process. Recovering from grief can be just as difficult and painful as grieving itself, because it can feel like a betrayal to the loved one. The last thing she needs is someone she doesn't know very well and who doesn't know her very well telling her how to feel. Don't get me wrong--you're sweet and generous to want to help her, and you can, but not this way.

I think the best thing you can do is listen to her and--at most--inquire whether she's got support from her partner or friends, or has talked to a counselor, or her religious leader, etc. If she says yes, leave it at that. If she says no, you might suggest it to her, then drop the subject. I wouldn't bring it up again unless she seems to be getting worse or more isolated. Don't stop reaching out to her, but you can't force yourself to be closer to her than you really are.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:14 PM on April 28, 2010

Everyone above is right...listen to them... two months is NOTHING in grief time... it took my son a couple of years to even approach normal after his brother died...

Your role. .... stay close by, listen, accept, and love her...

Quicker than is imaginable, people will start to avoid her and avoid the topic of her brother's death... don't be that person....
posted by HuronBob at 4:47 PM on April 28, 2010

Just listen. Like I've said in another post about grief (the person whose aunt is dying of cancer), grief is a natural process and it varies from person to person. There is something severely wrong in our society regarding grief, in my opinion, because anybody who grieves for more than a few weeks/months are treated like they have clinical depression (which usually does not have a specific cause or reason vs. grief) or should just "get over it".

My Dad died 5 years ago of kidney cancer. I talk about it/him just about every day. I'm sure some people would wish that I would just "get over it" and stop bringing it up, but his death has been a major event in my life and it still affects me to this day (although I'm not depressed by it and I generally don't cry over it any more, but I still talk about it).

As others have said, just listen, be supportive, and don't be judgemental. And please don't ever tell your friend that they should "get over it" (not saying that you would, but you have no idea how many people either said that to me directly or hinted it passive-aggressively, especially those who have never experienced a loss like this before).
posted by 1000monkeys at 5:15 PM on April 28, 2010

Nthing that everybody grieves differently, at a different pace and in a different sequence. Two years from now if he's the main topic of her conversation and her home is decorated as a shrine to him and she's not seeing friends and her performance at work is suffering, then it'll be reasonable to worry that she's somehow "stuck" in her grieving. But two months after her brother died? That's really, really early.

The entire first year is going to be difficult, as will other milestones. The first time his birthday comes around. The first birthday of hers that occurs. The first Thanksgiving (assuming they celebrate it). The first Christmas (ditto assumptions). The first of anything that they used to share. And the first of things they didn't share — if she gets married, that will probably refresh the sadness. If she has a child, that'll likely refresh it too. If she gets a promotion at work, if she runs a marathon, if his favorite team wins the championships — anything that she would have shared with him while he was alive. After my mother died, when something happened and I would think "wow, I can't wait to tell Mom about this — oh..." it almost felt like being physically punched in the gut. There'd be a sinking feeling and a deflation, and my feelings of happiness and excitement would get a big dose of bittersweet poured over the top.

Give her time. Let her talk. Let her cry. Talk about your good memories of your friend if she seems to welcome that.

And please, please, don't ever use any variation on the term "get over it" in her hearing.
posted by Lexica at 6:31 PM on April 28, 2010

"Every conversation with her is basically the same and focuses on the loss."

Well... did you have any other connection with her? Or just through her brother? If the main thing you had in common was him, it's natural for people to talk about what they have in common. In this case what you have in common is her brother, and thus that leads to discussing his death.

Do you know if this is all she talks about with everyone else, or just with you?
posted by Jacqueline at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2010

I am sorry for your loss.

Nthing that everybody grieves differently... and more so...
Grief takes on different forms for the person grieving and for the particular loss.
The best example I can relate is the case of two friends. Each lost their life partner.
One friend even after being married again, still grieves for his lost partner after 5 years. When he found his new partner, the pets from his former wife were deemed to be a nuisance and were put down. (I really wish I had known about this before it happened.)
The second friend (visibly) grieves more for the loss of the pet than the life partner. While she loved her husband very much, she accepts his passing, but the loss of the pet was overwhelming because (I assume) of the suddenness and violence.

Everyone is different and each situation is different. You can help your friend's sister (if she will accept the help) by talking to her. There is no such thing as "just get over it".
posted by Drasher at 6:48 AM on April 29, 2010

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