Be a better friend to a girlfriend who has lost a parent

Jill girlfriend groupFor many of us, it’s already happened. We’ve experienced the loss of a parent and/or have girlfriends who have.

Sad situations sometimes make it tough to be a better friend.

How can we be a better friend when a friend’s parent passes away? First, keep in mind that It’s especially tough on our friend because, generally, she’s known her parent all her life. She’s never experienced life without that person in it – that’s an unique experience and a milestone in her life. Sometimes that puts her as the oldest generation – which, again, adds pressure and sadness that may be difficult to handle.

Being there for a friend during a tough time is just part of being a friend. But sometimes it’s not easy to know how to handle the situation – what to say/not say, things you can do, ways you can be a better friend. Girlfriendology is here to help and to request your input on how you’ve helped your friends deal with the loss of their parents or how they’ve helped you when your parent(s) died.

Personally, when my father passed away, it was my girlfriends (and my dear husband) who were there for me. My friends called, sent cards and spent time with me to make sure I was doing okay. Deana sent a beautiful ivy planter (which surprisingly is still alive!). Whether they knew my father personally or not, they made sure they honored his memory in beautiful ways and sentiments. I will never forget that my friend Rhonda and her husband drove over several hours to come to his memorial. They didn’t know him personally, but they were there for me. That is why I will always try to be there, at a funeral of my friends’ parents, if at all possible. I appreciated knowing that Rhonda carried about me that much that she would take time to be in the same room with me when I said good-bye to my sweet dad.

Everyone is different and has/had a different relationship with their father or mother, but here are a few ideas to hopefully help you and your girlfriend deal with the sadness of losing a parent:

  • LISTEN – Listening is probably the most common answer to all questions on friendship and relationships. Women are different than me – we just want someone to listen, not necessarily solve our problem. Calling just to check in, asking if you can take her to dinner or go on a walk together – find opportunities to talk and primarily listen. Also, grieving friends may need extra time/attention as they deal with their loss. Understand that they may just need to process their loss, relationship and feelings. Give them grace and some extra time and attention. Be accessible and let her know that she can call whenever she needs to – if you mean it! (But also accept that she might not want to talk for a while – but you’re there for her when she does.
  • SHOW YOU CARE - As I mentioned above, I remember (and still have) the plant that my friend Deana gave me when my dad passed away. I look at it and remember my dad but most of all my thoughtful girlfriend. Cards, calls, messages and fun memories are all helpful and show that you’re keeping her in your thoughts. Be low maintenance and understand that she might be busy with family, etc. but also be attentive. Check in with her periodically to see if there is anything you can do. Offer to take her to/or bring dinner so you can talk about how she’s doing. Donate to the non-profit that they’ve selected for memorials.
  • SPEND TIME WITH HER - If she’s ready for it, invite your girlfriends over to talk, hug, cry and possibly eat/drink together. There’s a lot of ‘girlfriend therapy’ in being around the people who love you and want you to be happy.
  • SAY THE RIGHT THING – Be very sensitive to what is going on but don’t let that hold you back from talking. Acknowledge that life isn’t fair and that you’re truly sorry. Especially if it is a tough situation, acknowledge that and be supportive.
  • DON’T JUST ASK, DO IT! - Often, in the midst of stress, sadness and somewhat of a crisis, we try to help by offering to assist them in whatever they want. But, what do we do when they don’t ask? We might need to step forward and just ‘do it’! Take over dinner. Mow their lawn or shovel their sidewalk. Take their dog to the dog park when you take yours. Pick up groceries for her. Just do it!
  • DO SOMETHING SPECIAL – Create a little memorial for her. Perhaps sneak some photos out of her home and make a scrapbook with loving sayings in it. Help her create a memorial – plant a tree, create and give her a stepping stone for her garden or create/purchase a special frame for her to feature her photo(s) of them together.
  • HELP HER – She may be in charge of the funeral and lots of details. Help her organize all the timing/details. Offer to pick up relatives from the airport, bring over dinner, take care of her pets while she is busy taking care of the arrangements.
  • Girlfriend (and girlfriendship expert!) IRENE LEVINE shared: “The most important thing is to be there. Don’t tell her that you know how she feels. Everyone experiences death in different ways. Listen, comfort, and offer practical help (with chores, with kids, with food). I was touched when my friends organized a shivah after my Dad died.”
  • MARIE shared (on our Facebook page): “My step-mother (who has no daughters of her own) lost her mother and father 3 weeks apart last fall. I’ve invited her to do the girlfriend/mother/daughter thing on Sunday-mother’s day-we’re heading to the Ottawa Farmer’s market then window shopping and tea then mother’s day dinner with my father, husband and son.” (JANIE commented to Marie: “Marie, that is a wonderful thing to do with your Step Mom. We also like to feel loved and cared for, too! We do sometimes more than “real” Mom does!”)
  • MARGYE shared (on Facebook): “My estranged father died in October. My favorite girlfriends, my three sisters, and I found out the day after his funeral that he had passed. It was devastating for us. We decided the best way for us to grieve was to drive to his grave site and have our own memorial service. We texted, blogged, & called our girlfriends during and after the journey and while we were with our favorite girlfriends we were all grateful to have a strong and far-reaching group of loving women to help us heal. The allowed us to cry, be angry, be hurt and remember our Dad. I guess the best help is for them not to get bored when we mention him or remind them for the thousandth time that we didn’t get to say goodbye. Allowing one to grieve is top of the list.”
  • BRENDA shared (on Facebook): “When my dad died, I had a friend who did something that helped more than anything. She helped take care of practical little details that seemed to overwhelm me, and she did it in her quiet, no-nonsense way. Most of all she never asked me if I was okay, because she knew that’s all it would take to break the dam that I was trying very hard to hold together.”
  • GRETCHEN shared (on Facebook): “One of my closest friends and God Mother to my children quietly cared for my children at the funeral when my dad died. At 7 and 3 yrs they were ill at ease being with the openly grieving adults. So she took them to the playground at the church and let them play, snuggle as needed and ask her their questions. I was relieved I was spared difficult questions and able to focus on my own loss that day. Weeks later we met for coffee and she shared my children’s experience that day with me to help me care for them and understand their sense of loss too. I was shielded from death as a child. She knew it was important to me that my children be allowed choices to be apart of things (funeral and reception) and given permission to talk about death & dying and ask questions without feeling inhibited. Caring for my children was a gift beyond compare, knowing me and my heart. It was special she was there to just do things without needing to talk about it in advance”

How can we be a better friend to girlfriends who have lost a parent? …

… (or spouse, or child, or friend) what is your girlfriend advice to helping your friend who is dealing with the death of a parent?

More girlfriend advice on how to be a better friend:

Comments

  1. Amanda Dickson says

    My best friend, Jill, lost her mother when she was 7, and her dad later remarried. She loves her stepmother and they have a pretty good relationship. Jill later married a man much older than her who had already had 2 teenage sons and a vasectomy. Jill was aware of this, however she chose to marry him anyway, but obviously this means she will never be a mother herself. Her husband, Michael, doesn’t want to have any more children.

    She and I have had several conversations, and while they’ve been happily married for about 7 years, I can see that she may be regretting her decision. She is glad that she married Michael, but she secretly longs for a child of her own. Mother’s Day is extremely difficult for her, not only due to the loss of her own mother, but due to the fact that she will never have a child of her own. Her husband’s oldest son now has 2 children which technically makes her a “step-grandmother”, however due to the age difference between Jill and her husband, Michael’s son and his wife won’t allow their children to address Jill as “grandmother.” This is adds hurt to Jill because she sees this as her one “shot” to be a grandmother being taken away as well.

    I have no idea how to help her through this, especially on Mother’s Day. It’s especially difficult because I have a son who is 14 as well as three step children who treat me like their own mother, as well as three “step-grandchildren” who call me “grandma”. Jill is witness to this and I can see that it is difficult for her and she is envious of my relationship with them.

    I came across your website today when I was looking for birthday ideas for another friend of mine, and I am hoping you might have some advice for me on how to make things easier for Jill, or at least how to act around her during difficult times such as Mother’s Day. The holidays were never a problem before because her “step-son” and his family lived out of state, however this summer they moved to the same city in which we live. Now she has to spend every holiday with them. She loves her “step-grandchildren” like they are her own and treats them as such, but she is still not allowed to let them call her Grandma, they have to call her “Jill.” Her husband doesn’t fight it because the relationship he has with his son is already strained.

    I have no idea what to do to help her or how to make her feel better. I feel guilty whenever she see’s the relationship I have with my son and my stepchildren, etc. I hate to see how much she is hurting. Yes, I understand she made her choice but she was only 20 when she made that decision.

    Anyway, any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I know the holidays will be here before I know it, and then Mother’s Day will be here just as fast. I swear each year goes by faster and faster… Mother’s Day isn’t always easy for me because I have a strained relationship with my own mother. I always have to make sure I don’t complain to Jill about it because I know she misses her mother and she would give anything to have any kind of relationship with her mother, as long as she was alive. I don’t want her to think I’m ungrateful that my mother is still alive.

    Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you soon! (Please don’t post this on Facebook because if she happens to see this, I know she will put two and two together and figure out it’s her!)

    Thanks again!
    Amanda

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