My friend is killed. My best friend moves away. My parent or grandparent dies. I go through a divorce. What do all of these items have in common? The represent something lost. Whenever I lose someone or something that is important to me, I go through a process of grieving. This doesn’t mean that I cry about it 24 hours a day, even though I might for a period of time depending on the severity of the loss. What it does mean is that I experience a wide range of emotions that directly impact many or all areas of my life.

One of the most difficult aspects of grief is that there is no formula to fix it. It is not like a broken bone that can be put in a cast and fixed. It is not like a cut that I can bandage and make all right. It is not like a slight headache for which I can take an aspirin. Grief is not fixed with a pill because it is a process. For some people in some situations, the grief process may last a few days. For others it may last months or years. There is no formula.

Some of the feelings that individuals experience when they lose someone close are: denial or shock, anger and bitterness, confusion, and mild to severe depression. Eventually, most people are able to integrate the loss into their experiences and continue to function productively in a healthy manner. However, if a person is not able to grieve properly, healthy functioning can be severely delayed.

The process of grieving involves hurt and pain. Many of us work hard to avoid these two feelings at all costs. Yet, this only delays getting healthy again. People that are hurting need to be given the opportunity to talk about their pain. They need to be allowed to experience their feelings without being made to feel that they are abnormal. In essence, they need to be allowed to grieve. For some this may involve talking to a friend, parent, or other relative. For others it may require talking to their family therapist. Still others may find themselves so severely depressed that it requires medication as well as counseling.

What can you do when your spouse, friend, or child are hurting from a loss? Be there to genuinely listen, allow them to express themselves freely, and encourage them to seek additional professional assistance if that is deemed necessary. Again, grief is not fixed with a simple solution. It requires time, love, and a freedom to experience, work through, and integrate the pain of the loss. You don’t have to be a professional to help someone, even though that may be necessary in some cases.

You don’t have to know the exact words to say in order to help your friend. You primarily need to just be there. This may involve sitting and saying nothing. It may mean giving them a needed hug. They need to know that you will still be there for them when (they may feel like “if”) the sun comes up tomorrow. Life can seem very uncertain and insecure at times. The person grieving needs some anchors and certainties. You can be one of them as they walk through this process of grieving.