When someone you know is losing a parent, the physical and emotional suffering your friend can go through can be overwhelming.
Offering words of support and encouragement for your friend during this time is as simple as letting your friend know that you care and that you're there. The following guide may help you to foster a meaningful conversation between the two of you.
1. “What can I do for you?”
One of the first things you can do is to approach your friend with words of support and encouragement. "How can I help?" can be music to your friend's ears when she’s feeling tired and worn out.
To take it a step further, consider doing instead of asking. For example, instead of asking your friend if you can bring over something to eat, show up with a meal to feed a family of four instead. Already-prepared food is always a welcome respite from the chore of cooking. Any leftovers can be stored for later.
2. “I’m thinking of you”
If you're wondering how to make someone’s day a little bit easier, consider letting your friend know that you're thinking of her by hiring a weekly maid service. Hiring someone to help with household chores during this difficult time will alleviate some of the pressure of keeping a clean house on top of everything else.
Consider asking for referrals to a reputable cleaning service before making your selection. Discuss a suitable day and time of the week that’s convenient. Never assume that any time is a good time. Your friend may have a specific schedule for things like bathing and sleeping.
3. “I love you”
If you aren't able to be there in person to support your friend, you can still send love from far away. This has become easier to do now that online shopping has become the norm. It's very easy to shop online, choose a gift, and have it wrapped and delivered in a day or two.
There are websites dedicated to those who are bereaved or who have suffered a loss, and there's no shortage of sympathy gift ideas that a quick Google search won't come up with. You don't need to spend a lot of money to let someone know that you love him and that you’re thinking of him.
4. “I understand what you’re going through”
If you’ve experienced the death of a parent, you may be able to help your friend cope with the stress of dealing with her parent’s loss by sharing what you've gone through.
Not everyone understands how it feels to have lost a parent. Knowing how it truly feels can only come from experience. If you're able to share in this type of loss, this may be the time to open up and talk about what you've gone through to help a friend with grief.
5. “Take time for yourself”
The last thing your friend may have on her mind is taking time out for a little self-care. It may seem a bit indulgent for her to do so, or perhaps she feels guilty leaving her dying loved one's side, even for just a few minutes.
You'll have to approach this subject a bit delicately to get the message across that a caregiver who's overwhelmed can't possibly keep caring for others without some self-care.
Things you may suggest are:
- Take a short walk around the block.
- Get some sleep.
- Ask others to take over a shift.
- Attend church or a spiritual service.
- Invite a friend over for some coffee or tea.
6. “I’m sorry for what you’re going through”
One way of supporting your friend is by telling her that you're sorry for what she’s going through, sorry that her loved one is suffering and sorry for the pain and suffering the family is feeling. These simple words are very impactful when they're offered at a trying time. It lets your friend know that you sympathize and understand that she’s suffering.
There may be little you can do to change the outcome, but a few carefully chosen words may make all the difference in the world. Be prepared to offer a shoulder to cry on.
7. “Go get some fresh air”
When you give someone permission to take a breather from his responsibilities, it allows him to shift his perspective a bit. Instead of feeling guilty for thinking of taking some time for himself, he can now look at it as simply doing what he’s told, so he’s “just following orders.”
Psychologically, this can have a big impact on how someone feels about taking time away from caregiving responsibilities. Most people who find themselves in this position feel that it's their responsibility to give round-the-clock care, regardless of how overwhelmed they may be.
8. “Would you like some company?”
Taking the time out of your day to visit with your friend who’s caring for a dying parent will show her that you care and are there to support her. Reassure her that she doesn't need to worry about what the house looks like and you completely understand if she’s still wearing the same clothes from last week.
While you're there, sit and chat about everything going on in the outside world. This will take her mind off of things and provide a little bit of entertainment.
9. “Can I say a prayer?”
The comfort of prayer is almost always welcome in these situations. Talk to your friend about her parent's religious and spiritual beliefs so you can offer the appropriate prayer and spiritual support.
If you aren't comfortable with your level of knowledge and experience in leading a prayer, consider inviting a local member of the clergy to attend.
10. “May I help make some phone calls?”
Your friend may not have helped his parent make final arrangements yet. Find the right time to approach this topic as delicately as possible with your friend, because leaving these matters to the last minute may cause unnecessary stress and expense to the family. Offer to place a few phone calls on your friend’s behalf to gather information for when the time comes.
11. “How are you doing financially?”
Pride seems to always get in the way of asking for help when it's needed most. Unless your friend is well off, you can safely assume that she may be suffering some financial hardship while she’s caring for her loved one who is dying.
If you can afford it, offer to cover some basic expenses for her such as a utility or phone bill, or even send a grocery gift card for whatever amount you can afford.
Offer Words of Support When a Parent is Dying
Don’t be surprised if your friend forgets to nurture your relationship. On one hand, the person suffering the loss might not have the energy to expend on friendships and you might not know what to say to someone whose parent is dying. It may end up that you both remove yourselves from the situation to "give each other space.”
Still offer your support anyway. Don’t just tell your friend that you want to be there for him — actually take the time to do it. Your friend may have a difficult time dealing with his grief and may be in desperate need of the respite you’re offering.