This is Alison Cox’s column from issue 84 of the CRY Update magazine
Supporting a bereaved friend following the sudden cardiac death of a young family member
The key is to understand that you cannot cheer your friend up. That you cannot get them to feel better.
However, what you can do is to be with them and just listen; or just be quiet; go for a walk together; make them a coffee; make their dinner.
Be guided by them; ask what they would like to do, and listen carefully to what they say.
Understand that they were not the person they were before and that they will never be that person again. Their tragedy will change them forever and it will have an impact on your relationship.
Remember that you are not failing just because you can’t make them ok again. No one can. Their life now is about reconstructing their future without the person who has died.
You CAN help them through this tortuous time, and be massively important in a way you never have before, providing you can cope with the person they have now become – as they will never be the same again.
The love of friends
After Shirley Wort’s son Julian died in 2000, aged 28, she determinedly resolved to raise an awesome £50,000 for his CRY memorial fund by his 50th birthday.
Sadly the interjection of the pandemic hindered all fundraising and so Shirley had to dejectedly accept that she would be unable to reach her ambitious target.
3 days after the local newspaper had published her depressing story, a friend of Julian’s had not only magically produced the £2,503 needed, but friends had also signed a birthday card in his memory which included a cheque of a further £190 raised from another collection.
This unexpected card had, very sensitively, been given to an overwhelmed Shirley by a friend of Julian’s when she was visiting his grave, and was matched with a massive bunch of flowers on what would have been his 50th birthday.
Supporting someone following the young sudden cardiac death of a friend
The colloquial saying, “that a friend in need is a friend indeed,” could not be more appropriate than when applied to the sudden cardiac death of a young friend.
We are born into our relationships with family, but most of us can remember back to our childhood and the freshness and excitement of making a new friend.
There is no age limit! We can make a much older friend when we are young and a much younger friend when we are old. Understanding each other is what knits the friendship and creates the opportunity for trust. Trust offers a safe harbour for sharing troubles. And sharing troubles help us manage the difficult times and rejoice in the good times.
The sudden cardiac death of a young friend is likely to have a devastating impact on those affected. Parents, relatives, teachers, can be stunned at how piercing coping proves to be.
People can often misunderstand the needs of a young person that has to cope with the brutal impact of such an inexplicable loss. Sudden death is for the oldies when you are young. People age, slow down, start needing medication, attention, and begin to puff when they walk. Sudden death for the oldies is sad but unsurprising.
Sudden death for the under 30’s is a life ripped inexplicably away with no vocabulary that can satisfactorily explain the loss or express the shock.
Supporting a grieving young friend is about their needs. Just being there can take some courage but can have a massive impact. Staying quiet, being prepared just to listen – even if it is just the silence that you are listening to – can be very calming.
Offering to make their dinner and carefully, uncritically understanding their response – whatever it is – matters. If given the opportunity, they will guide you but they will no longer be the person they were before and never will be.
Their tragedy will impact on your relationship but your patience and kindness will never be forgotten.
They now have to try and reconstruct the future without their friend and if you can help them through this tortuous time you will become important to them in a way you have never been before. Remember when it is challenging that you are not failing because you cannot make them ok. No one can because they will never be the same again.
Nothing more clearly corroborates the anguish of loss than Andy Gard’s friend. Andy had been an apparently healthy, sporty popular 17-year-old. They had been school friends. He was now a middle-aged business man and aware that he needed to train hard to be fit, but determinedly requested a CRY place in the London Marathon.
He wanted to run in memory of Andy 20 years after he had died. He did, and finished the race with the chest of his shirt wet with tears.
CRY has been contacted many times by friends and colleagues of bereaved families, asking how they can offer their support. We have created a new resource for friends and colleagues of bereaved families, with thanks to many of our Representatives and Bereavement Supporters for their contributions.
This new webpage is a place where bereaved family members can share their experience of anything which their friends or colleagues did to support them, which they found helpful.
To read their contributions, visit www.c-r-y.org.uk/support/supporting-a-bereaved-friend. If any CRY families would like to contribute their own experience of anything friends and colleagues did to support them, they can also submit this via this link.