Losing someone can be a destabilizing and overwhelming experience. Every aspect of our lives can be impacted by the loss. It is so difficult to adjust to the new routines in our lives following the death of a loved ones. Learning to set the dinner table for one less person or making coffee for one instead of the usual two for yourself and your partner every morning – loss manifests itself in the details of our day to day. Grief does not end after a person’s funeral or memorial service. It is a lived experience that will take time to work through. Each person will experience their grieving in a unique way as they slowly and patiently process their emotions when they surface one day at a time. Here are five tips for how to help someone you care about cope with their grief:
1- Listen: It might sound simplistic but one of the most healing experiences for coping with the pain of losing someone is to be heard. Having the supportive space to talk about whatever it is that they might be thinking and feeling can be the most helpful thing for that person. This may even be to talk about anything but the loss itself. It is important to be respectful of where the person is in their own journey rather than to force someone to confront emotions they may not be ready to explore.
2- Avoid Platitudes: Making statements like “time heals all wounds” or “they’re in a better place” may seem kind or helpful but in fact often trigger frustration for the person who is grieving. Though we might believe those adages, in the midst of the heartbreak, a person may not be in the mental state to accept truths that may not resonate for them. It is best to avoid them.
3- Don’t Assume: Relationships are complex. We never fully know a person’s relationship to the person who has died. Therefore, it is important to respect the person’s process of grieving without assuming that they are feeling certain emotions regarding the loss. For example, the individual may have had a conflictual relationship with a parent or a partner and is working through a myriad of feelings such as anger towards past wrong doings, relief at the relationship tensions ending, or even guilt for experiencing those emotions.
4- Be present: In moments where one’s world is crumbling and a person is left to pick up the pieces of their lives following a death, simply being present can be the most healing support. There will never be perfect words to offer or magic solutions for someone who is grieving, but being there even in silence can allow the other person to feel seen in the midst of their suffering. Simply saying that you are here for them and that you are around for whatever they might need is often incredibly grounding when the world feels chaotic.
5- Be patient: Reading about grief might help you better understand the need for patience. Each person’s grief takes on its own journey and may differ in timeline. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and it can often feel for many people like there is a need to rush back to being “okay” sooner than they might feel ready to do so. Therefore, an important piece keep in mind is that grieving may take longer than imagined and the emotions that a person experiences may resurface at varying times of their life following the death of their loved one. This is especially true of anniversary dates, holidays, and other milestones which people value (ex: graduations, birth of a child, weddings, and travels people may have planned to do…). Respectful patience with those who you know are grieving is often appreciated from the bereaved.
Written by Marianne Chivi, M.A., C.O.