Dear Harlan: I’m a junior in high school and I’m starting to worry about one of my best friends. A couple of weeks ago, her grandma died. She and her grandma had a close relationship. I have never gone through a death in the family and have been doing my best to help her, but don’t know what else I can do. I’m afraid to say the wrong thing and upset her again. I don’t want to force myself into her life, but I feel like she has started to shut me out. She is very sad all the time when I see her at school and doesn’t want to go out on the weekends. I’ll ask her if I can hang out with her, and she will tell me that she wants to be alone. How long will this last? What can I do to help her?
Dear Worried: There isn’t one way to grieve. Some people push the pain aside and pretend like nothing happened. Some people shut down and withdraw from the world. Some surround themselves with people and distractions. The most important thing you can do is make sure your friend knows you are there for her. Even if she doesn’t want to go out or have you over, make sure you are always inviting and asking her to hang out. Give her permission to feel whatever she’s feeling without letting this push you away or keep you from reaching out. When you do get together, if you’re ever uncomfortable, ask her if she’s OK with you asking a certain question. Let her set her boundaries. You can even tell her that you’ve never dealt with what she’s going through, but you want to be there for her however she needs you. Just being there and loving her is enough. If she continues to isolate herself, connect with her mom and dad. Life events can trigger other mental health concerns.