How can I help my friend overcome her grief?

Dear Counsellor,

I’m a student at a higher institution of learning in Kigali. My best friend, like many others, lost many of her loved ones, including her parents, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Every April, she gets very sad and I would like to help her.  Last year, she barely ate anything and lost a lot of weight and her grades dropped significantly. I was so helpless, as every attempt to be around her and comfort her only made things worse. How can I help her? I know it is hard to overcome this kind of grief but I want to be there for her in any way that I can. Please advise.



Dear Sharon,

Your friend is extremely traumatised, and justifiably, because she lost her parents during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.  She is still struggling with the overwhelming psychological trauma which makes her ‘remote’ and all she wants is to distance herself from the rest of the world because she feels uncomfortable around other people. She still grieves the loss and it has taken a toll on her life.  However, with your continued support and counselling, you can help speed the recovery process and make considerable healing changes that will help her move on with her life.  Be understanding and patient with her pace of recovery, don’t judge any reactions because such healing takes time and everyone responds in different ways.  Make constant effort to maintain your relationship with her by being closer and possibly connect her to a wide network of reliable friends so that she doesn’t spend too much time alone. Make her learn that no matter how agitated or out of control she feels, she is capable of getting st
ronger. The way she chooses to observe a situation has a direct impact on how she will be affected by it. Let her grieve, but she shouldn’t let it have full control of her life.

The people of Rwanda have emerged strong from tribulation and, with the “never-again” spirit, we chose to live together as Rwandans with the essence of reconciliation and forgiveness. She needs to embrace this spirit because, in doing so, she will set herself free from the pain and be able to take on her academic tasks and fulfil her dreams. Every aspect of her life will change for the better if she learns to forgive because this will relieve her from the bondage of holding onto anger and resentment.

Help her take care of herself by eating a well-balanced diet, socialising with people and encouraging her to participate in physical exercises, pursue hobbies and other activities that may bring her some will. Getting plenty of sleep will increase her ability to keep her energy up. You can also set a regular lunch date with friends. Use your friendship to influence her to join support groups for Genocide survivors so that she is inspired by testimonies of overcoming grief and rebuilding lives. 

If all your efforts seem futile, seek professional help.

Your feedback

Monitor her

Observe if she has any kind of trauma symptoms or crisis signs, make sure she doesn’t harm herself, or try to commit suicide. Be ready to help. As a friend, practicing trauma crisis intervention is important.

Sylvester Twizerimana, Psychologist

She needs psychological help

Do research and help her get psychological help, maybe at a hospital. Try to introduce her to social groups where she can get as much support as possible.

Chantal Gwiza, Teacher

Comfort her during this time

Although her grief can’t be ‘solved’, continue comforting and helping her feel better just by being there for her. She needs a shoulder to cry on, so keep communicating and checking in on her.

Lillian Mbabazi, Events organiser

Letting out the pain is necessary

I think letting her cry as much as she can is important, it helps let the pain out. Try and find someone who can help you because you also need support to support her.

Seth Nzabonimpa, Parent

Don’t let her give up on her studies

Take your friend for therapy as that is where she’ll get the help needed. Don’t let this affect your overall wellbeing. Talk to her about her studies, and get her to try out a few assignments; remind her that her future matters.

Yvette Mutoni, Kigali resident


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