*Disclaimer: trigger warning
support someone who is grieving
It can be a challenge at times, to know what to do or say to someone who is experiencing loss. We may feel as though we're not equipped to help out, or we may even feel helpless and unsure of what we can do to help. Here are 7 ways you can support someone who is grieving and be there for them when they need you the most.
Empathize to Support Someone Who is Grieving
If you've been in a similar situation. It's ok to let a bereaved person know you know what they're going through. Of course, everyone's situation is different and people can often have complicated and confusing relationships, so while it's ok to be empathetic if you've had a similar loss, it's important not to make things all about you and your experience.
There is a subset of people who – when venting their feelings – will feel slighted if another person talks about their experiences rather than just listening to what is being said. It can be challenging because for some, commiserating is a form of communication that they use to let others know, 'hey, I've been there.' But, this form of communication is not favored by everyone. Sometimes people just want to be heard. It's up to you, as the person trying to support someone who is grieving, to recognize this and act accordingly.
There's a line in the Disney movie that sums this up perfectly when Kristoff tells Anna – who is about to face something challenging – "I'm here, what do you need?" This put Anna in the driver's seat to let her needs be known; something you can also do when trying to help another person through their grief.
Don't Avoid the Issue at Hand
It can be difficult to know what to say to someone when they're grieving and often we worry about upsetting them further if we mention it or say something that reminds them of their deceased loved one. However, if you want to truly support someone who is grieving, talking about the person with them is usually a good idea.
Of course, you'll need to 'read the room' to ensure they're ready to talk, but if they are – and most people do – hold space for them to do so. Don't avoid talking to them about something that could bring about memories, most people want to talk about their loved ones.
In 1991, Michelle Obama lost her father and upon returning to Chicago – her hometown – to speak to a group of high school graduates, she said, "Let me tell you, he is the hole in my heart. His loss is my scar. But let me tell you something, his memory drives me forward every single day of my life."
Memories can be powerful healers. If you have an anecdote or heartwarming story to share, by all means, do so. If you didn't know the family member well, it's still ok to reach out and listen to what they have to say.
Tangible Things You Can Do to Support Someone Who is Grieving
Sometimes it's not what you say, but what you do, and when a loved one is experiencing loss, doing something for them can help alleviate quite a bit of stress. Whether that means organizing a group to take meals to the family, offering to come by and help clean or provide childcare, or taking care of mundane errands that they may not have the bandwidth for, you can support someone who is grieving in a tangible way.
It's easy to lose sight of day-to-day activities when processing grief. Everything can feel surreal and unnecessary. Having someone who is there to help with those everyday things they may not have the energy for can be a huge weight off their shoulders.
Let them cry if they need to
It can be difficult to watch someone cry and feel helpless. We may feel as though we have to help them through the emotion, or even help them to stop crying. But, crying can help some people process grief. The grieving process varies from person to person, however, many do cry when they're dealing with something as devastating as the loss of a loved one.
If you've ever felt better after a 'good cry,' there's a reason for that. The act of crying releases hormones like cortisol which is the cause of quite a bit of havoc within our bodies. Cortisol is the culprit that creates things like belly fat, but it is also the same stress hormone that can cause emotional stress and physical stress. When we cry, our body emits endorphins that can often make us feel better. If you're actively trying to support someone who is grieving, don't be afraid of their tears. Let them cry in front of you if they need to and release those emotions.
Avoid Passing Judgement
Just as many people cry when they're feeling heavy emotions, there are those who simply can't or don't cry and that's ok. Grief is different for everyone so it's up to us to recognize this and understand that not everyone is going to react in the same way to the loss of a loved one.
What we can do, is avoid passing judgment. Bereavement is a difficult process for everyone and it can be made even more difficult when we sometimes innocently assume that everyone is going to act and react in the same ways we would. It's important to understand each person is an individual. Some may seem to not grieve at all. Others may seem as though they'll never recover. It's not up to us to determine the length or manner in which a person works through their grief. It's our job to be for them, unconditionally when they need us, for as long as necessary.
Support Someone Who is Grieving: Read Between the Lines
For some who have experienced loss, reaching out for assistance or comfort is out of the question. They may feel as though they need to do this on their own, or they may not want to be a burden to others. Whatever the reason, if you're looking to support someone during their bereavement, it may be necessary to take initiative.
Determine what is not being said or done, and try to fill their needs in that way. If you happen to notice that they're not talking or have shut down completely, it may be time to intervene and offer professional help. This is a time you may want to 'read the room,' if something feels off or you see an unmet need that you can easily help them through, do that thing.
While we of course want to honor someone's wishes and not offer help if they don't ask for it, it's important to be mindful of situations that could prove harmful. Use your best judgment and be respectful, but be ready to jump in and help if the situation deems it necessary for safety and well-being purposes.
Remember Key Dates and Anniversaries
There is no set time limit on grief and every person grieves differently, so chances are that the person you care about who is grieving the loss of a loved one, will experience many ups and downs throughout the bereavement process. Remembering important dates like the birthday of the individual who has passed away, or important dates tied to special memories is a great way to support someone who is grieving.
Grief can hit in the most unusual, and painful of ways, so having someone who understands when they may be feeling triggered or emotional, can be of significant comfort to someone who has lost a loved one. If you know an important date is coming up, reach out and let them know you're there for them to talk, vent, cry or just listen.
Along the same lines, memories can be confusing; often grief can overcome someone when doing the most mundane things. A simple trip to the grocery store can cause feelings of great sadness, or take a person's breath away when they see a favorite snack or food their loved one used to eat. A song on the radio can bring on waves of grief and tears. If you happen to be with someone when something like this happens, letting them know that you understand and are there for them in any way they need you to be, is the best gift you can give.