How to support a fiercely independent friend through grief

How to support a fiercely independent friend through grief

Supporting a best friend through grief is hard; supporting your fiercely independent best friend through grief can feel near-on impossible.

That was the experience of Celebrity Masterchef winner Nadia Sawalha when her best friend and BBC broadcaster Kaye Adams lost both parents recently.

“It's been really painful for me to watch because I've wanted to help more than I could,” Nadia told Kate Thornton on a recent episode of the White Wine Question Time podcast.

“I think Kaye has been extraordinary in the way that [she’s] dealt with it all. You just want to take some of that pain for somebody you love.”

From left: Nadia Sawalha, Kate Thornton, and Kaye Adams on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time

So how do you show support for a friend who is not the type of person to lean on others for support at the best of times?

1. Communicate your support in ways that are not intrusive – and choose not to get upset if they don’t respond

There are so many ways to let a friend know you’re thinking of them without invading their personal space, or making them feel obliged to respond graciously when they have no energy left.

“When Kaye's mum was very poorly and with her dad, I would just send a text or send a heart,” Nadia said. “I will often send Kaye a text just saying ‘Just thinking of you’, because I know that's what she wants.”

Nonintrusive options include sending a text, a WhatsApp message (directly, not in a group), or a good old-fashioned card or letter by Royal Mail.

Ask them how much or little communication they would find helpful, and respect their wishes. Even if you find it hard to relate.

2. Don’t judge their process: it might look different to the way you grieve

Independent personalities are often likely to throw themselves into the practical details surrounding a bereavement: phoning friends and family, organising death certificates, ordering flowers, printing funeral programmes, and so on.

It’s a great idea to offer your support around these tasks, but be gracious if your offer is rejected. Keeping busy might be the only thing keeping her together.

Be patient: sometimes you have to wait till all those jobs are done before they will be ready to process the actual emotion surrounding their loss.

3. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep

If your friend does take you up on an offer for practical support, realise that that’s a big deal, and follow through.

There are few things more isolating for this personality type than letting down their guard to accept help, only to be let down.

4. Share resources for self-care

An independent friend might not be able to accept direct help from friends during a time of grief, but there are plenty of resources online to help them understand their feelings and process them in a private way.

Marie Curie is a fantastic resource with information on practical, legal and financial matters, as well as tips for dealing with grief.

The Good Grief Trust provides a database of all grief support in the UK, sorted by the type of bereavement, and services available in your area.

For young grievers, Hope Again offers support and advice.

Grief.com has a list of movies that might help your friend process some of their emotions in a more manageable and removed way.

The Bereavement Trust offers a free helpline for those wanting to talk to someone a bit removed from their situation:

5. When they’re ready to talk, listen

Self-sufficient friends might take a while to talk openly about their loss. Just let them know you’re there to listen when they’re ready.

Don’t take it personally if you’re not the person they feel comfortable opening up to.

But if they do eventually want to talk, be prepared to accept a range of emotions. Grief doesn’t always look like tears: sometimes it sounds angry, sometimes it takes the form of funny stories.

As Marie Curie advises: “When you talk to them, take your lead from them. They may want to talk to you in detail about what happened and how they feel, or they may not.”

Just listen, reflect back what you hear, and remember: this is not about you.

You can hear the full episode featuring Kaye and Nadia, and how they learnt to negotiate each other’s different personalities and needs on White Wine Question Time, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listen below.