Grief is something that everyone experiences at some point in time, and yet each loss and grief experience is as unique as our fingerprints. Everyone grieves at their own pace and in their own way – that doesn’t mean that anything is “wrong” with them, or with you. We grieve because we have loved.
Grief is a normal human experience, and it is a process – something to tend to. Grief is not something that people “get over” or that needs to be “fixed”. Some days will simply be easier than others.
If you are wondering how to help someone who is grieving, here are some ideas:
- Listen some more. And then listen even more. People may need to tell their story over and over as they process their grief and integrate this loss into their life. Don’t judge people by what they say and how they feel. People can have a great deal to work through, and in time will come to answers that are right for them.
- Be careful of clichés, religious platitudes or easy answers. You may not be able to help with certain issues right now, don’t be too quick to share your opinions, even if you hear something you might not agree with. People need time to work things out in their own unique way and timing. While common phrases can feel helpful to say, often they are unhelpful or feel minimizing or dismissive to the recipient.
- Be sensitive to their needs. Be patient. Have confidence and believe in them. Grief is work of our minds, bodies and spirits. It takes time to learn to live in a “new normal.”
- Be willing to show up. You don’t need to say anything profound or earthshaking, there is no “right” thing to say. Often, your greatest help is your quiet presence and simple deeds.
- Provide a safe environment for strong emotions to be expressed. It may be painful, but it can be of enormous help. Don’t try to fix, minimize or solve anything.
- Make gentle suggestions and initiate contact and activities. It is important to respect a person’s privacy and give them time alone, and respect when they say no to an invitation, but also they may not have the energy to structure their lives after a significant death loss. People might not know what they need or how to ask for help. It’s helpful to have someone else initiate, and be okay if they say “no”.
- Help to remember their person, talk about the person who died. You won’t upset them or make them sad; they already are. Share your memories of the person who died, as you listen to their stories. If they show their emotions outwardly, it does not mean you have upset them, you have simply enabled them to be more open in your presence.
- Be there after the first “wave” is over. Often immediately after a loss, grievers get an overwhelming amount of contact. But over time that seems to stop. Make the effort to reach out, call, stop by or help out in other ways six months and a year, or longer, down the road. Offer your help, even if it feels like it’s been a long time. Let that person know you remember them, no matter how much time has passed.
- Be aware of any potentially destructive behaviors. Loss can lead some people into deep depressions, alcohol or drug use, or even thoughts of ending their own lives. Be a loving and protective advocate for a grieving person.
- Help find humor in appropriate ways and places. Laughter can indeed be good medicine.
- Learn about grief. The more you know, the better you will be able to help someone. You are welcome to attend any programs or workshops with HeartLight Center that could be helpful to you. Heartlightcenter.org
Grief can be challenging to some relationships, but please remember that now, more than ever, people need caring and patient support of friends and family. Your true friendship, companionship, kindness and patience can mean more than you may ever know.