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Somebody in My Friend's Family Died. What Should I Do?

"Today is going to be great," thought Kate. Her best friend, Sarah, had been absent from school for the last week. Without her, hanging upside down from the monkey bars had been boring. The walk home from school had been lonely. She missed Sarah at lunchtime, too.

But today Sarah was coming back and things were going to be back to normal. Sarah had missed so much school because her grandmother had died. Kate thought that was really sad. She hoped Sarah would be feeling better by now.

But when Sarah got on the bus, she seemed different. She tried to smile, but she didn't look happy. Kate had a lot to tell her, but it didn't seem like she was really listening. Sarah barely talked at all. What was going on?

How People Grieve

When someone dies, the people who loved that person may seem different for a while. They might cry a lot or feel angry or confused. Or maybe, like Sarah, they're just more quiet than usual.

These are different ways of coping, or grieving (say: GREEV-ing). Coping and grieving are two words that describe the way people adjust to or deal with a difficult change in their lives. The death of a loved one is a big change, and people cope and grieve in different ways. That's OK. There isn't one right way to grieve.

It's hard to know which ways you will cope or grieve until you face a difficult change. You might want to be alone and sit in your room. Or maybe you would want to talk with your mom, dad, or another grown-up about the person you miss. You also might want to scream at the top of your lungs — even if you're usually a calm kid.

And some kids might just want to get back to normal life — go to school, play, do the regular things they usually do. All these feelings are normal and a person might experience a whole lot of different feelings while he or she is going through this hard time.

How You Can Help

When it's a friend who's dealing with the death of a loved one, you might be able to help them. Just still being a friend is important. How nice it feels to see a good friend when you are feeling low! You may feel shy about it, but it might be a good idea to bring up the subject. For example, Kate could say, "Sarah, I'm sorry about your grandma."

That's a way for Kate to let Sarah know that she feels sad for her. It may help Sarah start talking about her feelings. But it's also OK if Sarah doesn't want to talk much about it. Kate also could simply say: "If you want to talk about it, I will listen." That's a really kind thing to say.

Don't be surprised if your friend doesn't want to talk. But if your friend does, it can help to remember and to talk about the good times when the person was alive. It's also OK for you to sometimes cry with your friend who feels so sad.

Kate wanted Sarah to be her old self, but that doesn't always happen right away. Some sadnesses stick with a person for a long time. At first, the person may not feel like playing or having fun like he or she used to. After more time goes by, most people do feel happy again even though they still miss the person who died. You might want to talk to grownups about how they felt when a loved one died and what it was like for them as they started to feel better.

If, after a while, you are worried because your friend doesn't seem to be getting back to being his or her old self, tell a parent, school counselor, or teacher that you are concerned. That way your friend can get help with sadness or other feelings he or she might have.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: February 2014
Originally reviewed by: Dale Perkel, LCSW

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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