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What do you do when your friend suffers a tragic loss?

What do you do when your friend suffers a tragic loss? | After the Heartbreak
What do you do when your friend suffers a tragic loss?

I have a friend called Carmel who is an expert in grief support. Why do I think that? Because without her, I’m not sure I would have survived the first night. I’ve asked her to write a Guest Post…….

Hi, I’m Carmel. I had been out for the day and arrived home around 4pm and decided to check my emails. There was one that had the subject heading ‘Norbert killed in a tragic accident‘. Wha…????

It had been sent from the coordinator of a volunteer group I was a member of along with our friends, Norbert and Marlene.

The brain is quite a remarkable organ. It initially protects someone from news that is incomprehensible and slowly allows that information to ‘sink in’. That’s what I believe. Anyway, I sat and stared at the email for some time trying to make sense of what it was saying. So many questions: “How could this have happened?” “Where did this happen?” “Where was Marlene?” Surely, this couldn’t be true.


I rang the person who had sent the email and was a blubbering mess. What the hell was going on? Of course, he went into protective mode and I was told I wouldn’t be any help to Marlene if I was falling apart too, and that maybe I should just give her some space. I reluctantly agreed to do that.

My husband arrived home from work at that point and after telling him the news, I knew I had to ignore the directive I had been given and contact my friend to see if she wanted me with her. I knew she didn’t have family close by (in the same state even) and thought she would need some support immediately.

mobile phone

First thing – a phone call –message bank (of course she wouldn’t answer her phone, she would be in shock)!
Next option – a text message – “do you want me to come over?” Whew…a reply – “Yes please”.

Right, OK, trying to think – “what do I take?” Food- yes but hang on, what kind of food would be good. Freshly made pumpkin soup – perfect. What else? – WINE!! Can’t remember what else I grabbed – maybe some fruit.

The twenty-minute drive felt like an hour. My mind was racing, trying to comprehend the news about Norbert. I just knew Marlene needed someone to be with her so I’m trying to get there in one piece and focus on driving.


Finally I arrived and Marlene met me out the front with a stranger standing behind her (a counsellor that the police had called) who took off as soon as I arrived. Marlene and I just hugged and held each other tightly. No words were needed at first, we just held each other. Physical support is so important. It seemed to give my friend a chance to release some of the pain she was going through. Then Marlene noticed I had brought wine and gave me a smile.

I wasn’t worried about what I should or shouldn’t say – just being there and listening was important. I asked factual questions which she could answer. “What actually happened?” “How did you find out the news?” “What happened after that?” I felt this helped Marlene to try to get the day into perspective. I didn’t ask about how she was feeling as I felt that was a pretty ridiculous question to ask. Of course, she is still in shock and trying to come to terms with what the hell had happened.

I figured Marlene hadn’t eaten all day so was happy to heat up the pumpkin soup. I don’t think she remembers eating it but I’m pretty sure she was appreciative that I had thought to bring something to eat and drink.

As an aside, I avoid using clichés. I’m not a fan of pointless words. The phrase “if you need anything, just ask. We are here for you” is a waste of time. To me, it says “I’m keen to help on the surface but I don’t really want to, however I feel better about myself if I say it.” Doing something without being asked such as turning up with some ready-made meals if there are extra people or family arriving to stay in the house, is much more beneficial.

The next day I picked up Marlene to just go for a walk for a couple of reasons – getting out of the house, some fresh air, a change of scenery, a chance to talk away from phones and to just be there for her.

Me and Carmel

For me personally, my heart was breaking for my friend and I wished like hell that what had happened to Norbert hadn’t. I allowed myself to become emotional when with Marlene as that is what I was feeling but I was careful to also be ‘strong’ when we were together.

Well, that was the beginning of Marlene’s new life that she has had to come to terms with, and we now have a strengthened friendship. That was back then, but even now we still make it a point to hug each other every time we catch up no matter how regular that is, and Norbert is talked about just as often because he will always be a major part of Marlene’s life.

If you ever find yourselves in the awful position where a friend has suffered a tragic loss be it sudden or after an illness (no difference) then I suggest:

  1. Try to physically turn up to just be with them as soon as you can.
  2. Be practical – turn up with something they might need
  3. Continue to spend time with them on a regular basis
  4. Bring the person who died into the conversation as in memories or what they would have done/said – very important!
  5. Lots of hugs!! Your friend may no longer have someone to give physical contact on a regular basis.


Me back again. I am grateful to have such a good friend who somehow just knew what was needed when my world fell apart.

Have YOU been the recipient of amazing support? What was the most helpful for you?
Post your thoughts in the Comment box below….I’d love to hear from you.

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

  • Melissa says:

    My husband went into hospice care at home five days before he died. I live in a fairly new subdivision and the lot across the street hasn’t been built on yet, affording me a view of the back of the house of the neighbor on the next street over. When we first moved in she had welcomed us to the neighborhood with baked goods and a list of phone numbers and emails of our other neighbors. Very thoughtful of her to do that. The day hospice brought the hospital bed she had seen it being delivered and she came by with a chicken and rice meal she’d cooked for us and a dessert. She said she didn’t know if it was what we even liked or preferred, but she felt she it would take the burden off of me for having to cook, if even just for myself. (I was surviving on chocolate, pretty much, at that point.) It was such a nice gesture, so totally unexpected, and of course I cried. At Christmas, six months later, I sent her a card thanking her for what she did. It really meant a lot to me.

    • Marlene says:

      We are both lucky to have such lovely friends. It does mean a lot and I now try to do my best to be a good friend to others too. Big hugs to you – it’s so hard to go forward alone after being with somebody you love. ❤

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