real life

"After my dad died, these are the things I wish people had said to me."


In the months that followed my father’s death, I felt like a zombie but I didn’t feel alone.

I knew there were people around me who loved me, and loved and missed my father. Not in the same way I did, but they missed him too. Even those who barely knew him missed him, because they knew me and knew how important he was to me.

And they made it their business to make sure that feeling didn’t last long; to make me feel like though my grief was overwhelming, it wasn’t all-consuming.

This is how to be there, when your friend is going through something big.

1. Let them talk first.

If you know someone is going through something, it doesn’t mean you should bring it up, according to life coach Terry Demeo. Let them talk about the issue in their own time.

2. Sometimes, words do work.

When I lost my father there were a few key phrases or sentiments I heard from friends and family that actually got through.

  • “I’m coming over. Don’t argue with me.”
  • “It’s not going to go away, but it will get easier to deal with.”
  • “Well, this fucking sucks.”
  • “Remember the time your dad said/did…”
  • “I’m here if you need me.”

Most well-meaning platitudes fell on (my) deaf ears but these ones actually broke through. They made me feel a little better, because what they offered was support, and understanding, rather than an ‘answer’ I wasn’t able to take seriously.

Listen to Mia Freedman’s moving interview with Samuel Johnson, following the death of his sister, Connie. (Post continues after audio.)

3. Really listen.

We all have a tendency to try and make our friends feel better, instead of really listening. We try to minimize the problem (“Oh, it’s not that bad. Look at how much you do have”), offer trite sayings (“What will be will be”), or try to let them know we understand how they fee,l by relating their situation to our own lives—when it really doesn’t apply(“I get it, I lost my dog last year”).

Just listen. If your friends asks for advice, fine. But if not, just listen and be there for them. A person in pain sometimes just wants to be heard.

4. Just be there.

Be there, physically. You don’t have to talk. Sometimes being there for a friend is simply about being physically with them, and letting them process their situation in their own time with the comfort of having someone literally close by.

Bring dinner over and just sit and watch TV, or ask them to go to a movie or for drinks. A companionable silence can be the best way for someone going through something terrible to sort through their feelings.

The award-winning podcast Mamamia Out Loud is doing their first live show. There will be laughs, disagreements and you can meet the hosts afterwards! We’re also donating $5 of every ticket price to Share The Dignity so grab your friends and come along to share the love and laughs, get your tickets here.