Helping Friend Cope

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hi, sadly last week my friends dad died suddenly of bleeding in the brain. When she told me she started crying but wanted to quickly move on to another subject. I saw her today and she didn’t bring it up what so ever she just acted like everything was okay. Is it normal for her to avoid talking about it? Or is it her way of grieving- or can she be okay in just a week? I just don’t want her to be holding back what she feels incase it makes her worse later. Should I do something or let her handle it in her own way? We’re 15.

A: You are a very good friend to ask these questions. No, she isn’t okay in a week. If she had a positive relationship with her father, it will take a long time for her to get through the grieving process. Many people expect themselves to be ready to move on in a few months. When someone has been important to us, it can actually take 3 – 5 years. It’s important for people to know that so they understand that it’s normal if they are still having trouble talking about a death several years later.

As for your friend: You are probably right. This is the way she is managing for now. Sometimes people do what’s called “compartmentalizing.” They shut down their feelings during different parts of the day just so they can get through what they have to do. What’s important is that they then allow themselves some time to feel the feelings. If your friend is just holding it together, she won’t appreciate it if you try to get her to talk about her dad during school. What you can do, though, is let her know you respect her need to act as if she’s okay but that you are willing to be supportive when and if she wants you to be. That gives her some control.

Please share my condolences as well. It’s very hard for a kid to lose a parent when she is so young.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Feb 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Helping Friend Cope. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/02/22/helping-friend-cope/

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