It is interesting that the one thing we are certain about in this life is that it will end yet when that happens we are never prepared. Emotionally we just don’t seem to be well equipped to deal with such a loss, we either fall apart or head straight for denial. But, in reality, falling apart or going through denial is all part of the normal process of grieving. Grief is a normal, healthy response to loss and we need to understand how to best deal with it in order to provide comfort to someone who is grieving.
And, as a matter of fact, loss can come in many forms. As devastating as the death of a loved one can be, any life altering experience can trigger a sense or feeling of loss that will trigger the same sense of grief and will send that person through the same 7 stages of grief as experienced through the loss of a loved one. “Other losses include the loss of your health or the health of someone you care about, or the end of a relationship, such as a marriage or even friendship. Healing from a loss involves coming to terms with the loss and the meaning of the loss in your life.”
So the question is how do we deal with or what do we say to a close friend or family member who has just experienced a loss? Many of us have no idea what to say or how to handle the situation. It is difficult to know what words you should say to comfort someone grieving. I think it is natural to feel uncomfortable and unsure in this type of situation. We have so much fear wrapped up around death or any kind of loss in our society that it is difficult to know how to handle our own emotional response much less know how to support another person who is grieving. But, there are simple and effective ways to help someone who is coping with loss.
Below is a simple list of DO’s and DON’TS that you may find helpful when dealing with someone who is experiencing a loss:
Act natural. I know you may not feel comfortable but the more uncomfortable you are the harder it is on the grieving individual.
Allow the person to talk about his grief and express his or her feelings. Try to listen without offering advice or interrupting. The worse thing you can do is start talking about yourself. Focus on LISTENING and offer your love patiently and unconditionally.
Be patient with the grieving person’s changing moods. It’s normal for someone who is grieving to alternate between anger, sadness, numbness and acceptance.” Give the person as much time as he or she needs to grieve. There is no time limit on grieving and telling him or her to ‘get over it’ or ‘let it go’ won’t help him or her grieve any faster.
Show genuine concern and affection if the person seems open to it. Try offering hugs or an arm around the shoulder, as appropriate. If he or she seems uninterested or irritated don’t take it personally, it is a natural part of the grieving process.
Sometimes silence is what the grieving person wants. There is so much going on that a moment of peace and quiet can be the one thing they need. Sitting silently next to him or her and just being close can be very comforting.
Offer to help but be specific. It can seem overwhelming and stressful to have people keep asking what can I do to help you. When you are grieving you may have no idea what would be helpful or not. Because grief can be a confusing and overwhelming experience, suggest something specific. It is hard for many people to ask for help.
Be the one who takes the initiative to:
- Call from time to time and just to check in
- Offer to run errands or get groceries
- Drop off food don’t wait to be asked
- Stop by and baby-sit the kids
- Offer to go along to a bereavement group with them
- Go for walks or enjoy a physical activity
- Do a fun activity with them that you know they really enjoy maybe a game or going to the movies
- Encourage socializing but only when the person feels ready
Keep in mind how difficult holidays and weekends can be for them. Try to be available for support or just spending time with them on these days.
If you recognize that the grieving person is experiencing depression, urge him or her to get professional help. This is only if they seem unable to function in day-to-day life. You may want to help them set up the appointment and if they ask, go with them.
If you haven’t already you may want to send some Flowers and a card it may seem like a small gesture on your part but it really means a lot to the person grieving.
Want more specific advice?
“A Practical Guide to Helping Others Deal with Grief” provides specific information about understanding the journey of grief with practical tools, tips and techniques to facilitate the griever’s way to acceptance and recovery.
Try to avoid the bereaved person. It only makes them feel more isolated and alone. This is a time that they need all the love and support you can muster. Try to put your personal discomfort aside and think about the other person.
Pry into personal matters. Allow the grieving person to share what they choose to and just be there to support them. You can ask questions but think before you talk!
Ask questions about the circumstances of the death. Talk openly about the person who passed but not necessarily the circumstances unless they bring it up.
- “I know how you feel.” Truthfully, you don’t know how they feel no one does whether you have been through a loss before or not! Don’t be surprised if the turn around and scream, “YOU don’t know how I feel, no one knows how bad I feel!”
- “You should.” or “Time heals all wounds.” offering advice or quick solutions just ends up frustrating and upsetting the grieving person.
- “At least he’s no longer in pain.” or “She’s in a better place now.” Or “It was God’s timing/will.” Trying to cheer the person up or distract from the emotional intensity only helps to prolong the grieving process and may even alienate them from you.
- “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Or “You’ll be ok.” Or “Things will go back to normal before you know it.” Or “It will get better.” Grieving people know this intellectually, but in their heart, they may feel so lost and alone. These statements tend to minimize the loss and could upset the grieving person and they may even feel frustrated and angry with you.
- “Just call me if there is anything I can do.” In the midst of grief, you just can’t think straight and you have no idea what you need. It’s up to you to call and if the grieving person does not want to speak with anyone, he or she will not answer the phone. If they don’t answer, the phone just leave a supportive message and let them know you are thinking about them
- “Don’t cry.” It is uncomfortable and painful to see someone you care about cry but telling him or her not to cry only prolongs the process and does not support the natural grieving process that needs to occur.
- I am sorry
- Tell me how I can help; I want to be here for you.
- ___________ was a good person and friend of mine. I will miss him or her.
- Would you like a hug?
- Please tell me what you are feeling right now, I have never been through something like this and can only imagine.
- It’s ok if you do not feel like talking right now. Just know that I am here to listen whenever you are ready.
- “I love you” (if you are close enough)
- talk openly and directly about the person who died
Supporting a friend or family member through the grieving process is one of the most selfless things you can do. It will never be forgotten and likely will help build a bond that will last a lifetime.
There are many books written on how to grieve, but almost none on how to help someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one and is in a state of grieving!“A Practical Guide to Helping Others
Deal with Grief”
helps you answer all your questions so you can feel confident in your effort to provide support for your grieving friend or relative.