How to Support Your Grieving Friend from Far Away

In late summer 2013, I got a call from my mom. After a long battle with Alzheimers that lasted for many years, my grandfather was nearing the end of a beautiful and rich life. My parents and my grandfather lived in Florida, and at the time, I was separated from them by 2,000 miles. I hopped on a plane nearly right away with my husband and 11 month old little boy in tow. I wanted to be near to say goodbye to my grandpa, and I also wanted to be near to support my mom, dad, and family. The time together spent celebrating, remembering, and grieving my grandpa felt so soothing and comforting to us as we mourned losing our patriarch.

I have thought a lot lately about my personal experience of saying goodbye to my grandfather and supporting my family through that loss in context of what so many people are going through right now. With restrictions in hospitals and care facilities due to COVID-19, and difficulties related to traveling and government closures, I know so many people are experiencing additional layers of isolation during their times of grief and loss. 

So whether you are personally mourning the loss of someone from a distance, or you are trying to support someone from far away or from a social distance, there are a few specific things you can do that can have a big impact on their grieving process. We know that with distance, it may feel like there isn't much that you can do, so we have put together a few tangible ways to show support for your friend who is far away.

Show Up

Showing up doesn’t need to be face to face for it to make a difference. While there really is no replacement for in person interactions, there are some things you can do to help your friend feel like they are “showing up” for you even if they are thousands of miles (or a Zoom screen!) away. And truly guys! The ideas here aren’t big and flashy. They are pretty simple things that can make a world of a difference.

I love the idea of sending regular text messages. Every time I ask our social media community what action made the biggest difference for them during their grief, I always have tons of people sharing that friends who regularly texted them acknowledging their loss made a huge impact. Whether you send a text on a specific day of the month (for example, if they passed away on July 17, send a text on August 17, September 17, October 17 to acknowledge that the 17th of the month is a hard day for them). 

If you’re not sure what to say to a grieving friend Your text message can say something simple like… 

“Hi friend! I am just sending a text to let you know that I know today might be hard for you. I’m so sorry for what you are going through, and I know you are missing (insert their loved one’s name here) so much. Just know I love you and I’m thinking of you.”
“Hi there (insert your friend’s name here). Just thought of you this morning when I woke up, and wanted you to know I love you. I know things are tough without (insert their loved one’s name here) and you’re in the thick of it. I’m with you and thinking of you.”
“Sending you a big hug and much love since I know things are hard right now.”

I also think handwritten notes make a huge difference! Something about a simple, hand written note that arrives unexpectedly in the mail is a super intimate and sweet gift to receive. It’s affordable and really makes a huge impact!

And while we are suggesting ways to support friends from afar, you know I’m going to suggest sending a laurelbox! The idea for laurelbox actually emerged from my personal experience of trying to support a very close friend who had lost her daughter. We were living on opposite sides of the country, and it was hard to know what to do. After searching high and low for supportive gifts that could be sent throughout that first year, Denise and I started brainstorming for the company that would become laurelbox.

Work to be close emotionally

I know this one might feel a little bit more intimidating and tricky, especially if you are giving this type of support from afar. Because while the text messages and cards are great, it’s important to remember that sometimes grievers also need a close friend or confidant who can walk intentionally with them through the darkness. 

Most of the time, grieving people just need someone to listen to them. They are oftentimes brimming with a lot of conflicting emotions and just need a listening ear. When you’re emotionally supporting a friend who lives far away, this practically looks like finding time to talk on the phone uninterrupted or scheduling a zoom call. 

Also, if this type of support doesn’t seem well received by your friend, I want to recommend that you take a step back and be careful not to force emotional support. Grief is a very unpredictable road, and many times grieving people can only emotionally manage 1-2 friendships at a time. If you get the feeling that you should step back, you can always go back to the first bullet point of supporting via text, card, or gift, and try and re-engage emotionally a bit later. 

Show support with a commemorative action 

This idea makes a huge difference when you are supporting a grieving friend from afar! The first year of grief is really, really hard, and when you live far apart, it can be hard to show support around these big milestones that trigger grief. I recommend you make a note of the one-month anniversary and any holidays (like Christmas or Mother’s Day) and send them something to reach out. The consistent support from a friend who lives far away is really super special. 

What are your thoughts? If you’ve supported a friend from afar, what ideas have you implemented? Or if a friend has supported you well from afar, what did they do that helped the most?