Helping a Friend That Is in Denial After the Death of a Loved One

Denial, the first stage of grief, can last for some time.
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Death is always a shock, even when it follows a long, terminal illness. When it is sudden and unexpected, it can make the survivors feel like their world was literally turned upside down. No matter how your friend lost his loved one, he needs your love and support not only now but in the months and years ahead.

1 Understanding the Stages of Grief

People who lose a loved one go through five stages of grief. Denial is typically the first stage. It is an automatic response to the shock of the death. Denial gives way to anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages might occur out of order, or your friend might revisit an earlier stage. There is no timeline and there is no right way to grieve. Your friend might not be stuck in denial, but might not yet be ready to move away from it.

2 Denial as a Coping Skill

Denial is one of the coping mechanisms described by Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, also a psychoanalyst. Denial plays an important role in helping people get through painful situations. In the aftermath of a death, the survivors must find the strength to get through such tasks as planning the funeral and alerting relatives. Your friend also has other obligations such as school, work or community activities. Denial is a way for her to get through her daily life.

3 Being Compassionate and Emotionally Supportive

Your role as a friend is to provide compassion and emotional support. Create an emotionally safe space in which he can vent his feelings without fear of judgment. Listen openly and accept whatever he has to say. Acknowledge his pain and avoid telling him how to feel. Resist the urge to give advice or fill moments of silence. Sometimes people need someone to sit quietly and let them cry or simply breathe through the hurt.

4 Providing Practical Assistance

Your friend and her family might be overwhelmed by their loss and have trouble asking for help. Make practical suggestions for things you can do to assist them. For example, you might offer to cook a week’s worth of meals, babysit younger children or do the laundry. Distractions are also helpful. Offer to host a board game night or take your friend to see a movie.

Keep a close eye on the family, especially after the funeral is over and loved ones return to their normal lives. Provide ongoing support, including phone calls and visits. Professional grief counseling and support groups can help people who are struggling to come to terms with the death.

Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.