How can I support someone who has been bereaved through drugs or alcohol?
The single most important thing you can do is to listen to your friend or family member with sensitivity and compassion. Many people who have been bereaved in this way feel judged and stigmatised and that their loss is somehow not valued.
- Make sure they know that you know that you can hear and see how painful their grief is and how deep the loss;
- Tell them explicitly, if you think they might be worried about this, that you are not judging them in any way;
- Ask them directly what you can do to be most help to them – remember this may vary a lot. Sometimes they may want to talk and be with you; at others times people may want to retreat and have some time on their own. Be really attuned to what they are asking for.
- Notice if there are any practical things you can help with like walking the dog, bringing round meals or helping with chores.
- They may want your help with liaising with professionals such as the police and coroners office – this can be very difficult to do when you are distressed and finding it hard to concentrate, as is often the case after a traumatic bereavement, so having someone to accompany them or make calls on their behalf can be a great help.
- Find out about other sources of support locally and look on the resources section of this website for suggestions.
- Don’t be afraid to share how you are feeling. Sometimes when we are supporting others we feel we need to be strong for them but, in fact, it can be a comfort for them to know that others cared about the person who has died and are expressing their feelings too.
- Use the name of the person who has died. Not using their name can make people feel like they are already being forgotten or can add to the stigma.
- Little gestures can mean a huge amount. Buying flowers, giving someone a hug, preparing a meal are all signs that you care and want to help them through. It may not feel like much but small steps will gradually over a long time help people to rebuild their lives.
- Don’t expect people to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’: your friend or family member will live with their loss for the rest of their lives. Most people learn to live their lives around the loss but it will never be the same again. Don’t rush them. This kind of bereavement is invariably a traumatic experience and extremely difficult to come to terms with. In fact, people often feel they get a lot of support in the immediate few days and weeks of their loss but that it dwindles as time goes on. Stick with them.
Often we can feel awkward and uncomfortable knowing how to start a conversation with someone who has been bereaved in this way. If you make sure the emphasis is on them letting you know what they need, you will be getting off to a good start. For example:
- How are you feeling today? I just want you to know that I’m here and ready to listen to you whenever you need me.
- Would you like to talk about [name of the person who has died]?
- What’s the most useful thing I can do for you right now?
- Would you like some company or are you feeling like you’d like to be on your own?