June 21, 2017

June 21, 2017 | Life Stories

How to help a loved one or close friend through the grieving process

Life is short, that’s what they say. However many of us are unprepared for the reality of losing a loved one, even less so when it comes to a supporting a loved one who has lost someone close to them.

Words can often fail us in these moments. Some people are so afraid to say or do the wrong thing that they choose to do nothing at all. And while doing nothing at all is an option we are all entitled to, when it comes to supporting those who are grieving, it’s not often a good one.

Of course, everyone experiences grief in different and distinct ways, so while there is no one perfect way to respond or to support someone you care about, here are some simple guidelines that give a general starting point for helping loved ones cope and heal, gradually. 

1. Open a line of communication

Immediately after the loss, we need to acknowledge it. This can either be done in person, by phone or in writing. Letting your loved one know you’re there for them, their grief is important, they are loved and that you care.

2. Let go of time expectations

Knowing how to get by, little by little, day by day, is often the most important to people experiencing loss.  It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your their present is holding so much pain however you cannot know what the future will be, for yourself or your loved one — it may or may not be better “later.” That their life was good in the past is not a fair trade for the pain of now. Stay present with your loved one, even when the present is full of pain.

3. Listen more than you speak

Invite your loved one to talk about their loss and how he or she died, and listen intently with genuine interest and curiosity. If the death was sudden and unexpected, perhaps caused by an act of violence, suicide or overdose, show you’re willing to hear the dark side – that is if both parties are able to discuss it.  

Understand that your loved one may need the help of professionals however for your part, you can still offer to listen. Consider saying something as simple as, "I imagine there are some really hard aspects of this. You don't have to go through that alone."

4. Don’t be afraid of emotion

Having a stiff upper lip has never done anyone any emotional good. Understand that your loved one may need to cry, and you might too. Don't hold back. Your raw emotions often convey what words cannot.

5. Find your own support

Being with someone in pain is not easy. When going through the grieving process, your loved one will not be able to show up for their part of the relationship very well and you may feel ignored and unappreciated.

Don’t take it personally and don’t take it out on them. As their support mechanism, you will need to find your own people to lean on at this time — it’s important that you be supported while you support your friend.

6. Don’t shift the responsibility

Try not to say “Call me if you need anything,” because your loved one may not call. This is not because they don’t need your support, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a phone call to ask will likely be beyond their energy levels, capacity or interest.

Instead, make concrete offers: “I will be there at 5pm on Monday to bring you groceries,” or “I will stop by each morning on my way to work and give the dog a quick walk.” Be reliable – don’t rely on them.

7. It’s ok to help them smile again

In the long run, grief can devour us, or it can enlighten us – it depends on what we focus on. When a loved one is mourning the loss of someone they love – help them focus on all those good, imperfect times worth smiling about. Help them counterbalance the weight of their loss with the weight of their gratitude for what preceded the loss.

If you knew the person who passed, think about sharing photos and stories about them with your loved one. If you didn't know them, ask to hear a story about them while you're being present over a shared activity like a walk or lunch. These activities signal that you understand they will still emotionally part of your loved one’s life says and their stories still deserve to be shared and remembered.

If you or a loved one are experiencing grief, there are a number of professional resources available to you. For more information, click here.

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