Helping loved ones through grief
At one time or another we will all experience the loss of a loved one; whether after a sudden death or prolonged illness, grieving for a friend or family member is a universal aspect of life we all experience uniquely.
Learning to be supportive and encouraging to others while they navigate this difficult process is always worthwhile. While we can’t eliminate their suffering, helping loved ones through grief can give them a safe space to express what they’re feeling and find comfort in dark times.
There’s no one way to grieve the loss of someone we love, and there’s no one way to support someone going through it. But if you know someone who is grieving, here are some things you can do to help.
We can’t replace or bring back someone’s loved one, but what we can do is listen openly to how they are feeling. Many people get caught up worrying about ‘what to say’ at a funeral or to a friend when you learn about a death. The truth is, being open and learning to listen to them whatever stage they’re at is one of the most helpful things you can do.
Forget the silver lining
Occasionally when we are trying to comfort a friend or loved one we’ll try and put things into perspective. While it might feel like saying “At least you got to say goodbye,” or “Everything happens for a reason” might feel helpful, often it has the opposite effect, and belittles the person who is struggling with feelings of grief. Resist the urge to find a silver lining or try to make it better – each person experiences grief uniquely, and the best thing you can is try and empathise by reminding them you’re there to listen to them and they don’t have to go through it alone.
Pick up the slack
A death in the family throws daily routine out the window – staying on top of things like groceries, lawn work and cooking can be really difficult when you’re depressed and grieving. Look for ways you can pick up the slack. Are there errands you can run or chores you can offer to do? Be the one who takes the initiative to stay involved and active in their lives.
Say the person’s name
Oftentimes our instinct is to avoid talking about the death over fear of upsetting the person grieving. This can have a polarising effect though, alienating the grieving person and making them feel as if it’s not okay to discuss their loved one. Even in death, our spouses, friends and family members remain important parts of our life. Don’t be afraid to refer to the person by name and share memories or address the fact directly that they’ve died.
Avoid you should statements
Telling someone how to act or feel when they’re grieving can be very difficult for the person to stay. Avoid using statements like “You should do this…” or “You will feel better when…”. Instead, frame any positive suggestions as just that – suggestions. Try using language like “Have you thought about…” or “You might…” instead.
Don’t expect grief to be linear
Remember that grief isn’t linear, and there’s no particular moment where a friend or family member will wake up and be over it or go back to normal. People process loss differently – some will need a long period of mourning, while others prefer to get back to routine straight away. Don’t assume just because time has passed the person feels okay – grief can come in waves and even if on the surface they look fine, inside they may be struggling and feel hesitant about asking for support. For most people, once the initial shock and busy period of the funeral is over is when support is more valuable than ever.
Have you ever lost a loved one? What helped you while you were grieving? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.