Revealed: How to support someone through grief
Often in our society people recoil from grief. Perhaps being unsure what to say or fearing saying the wrong thing. Yet being a companion to someone who is suffering loss and grief can be one of the most helpful things to them as they learn to accept the changes.
How do you be that support or be that comforter, when it’s hard to know what to say or do? How can you help when you know that you cannot take away the pain or give them what they truly want? Major loss, like death, is one of life’s most difficult experiences. It can leave us feeling alone and isolated in our pain. Yet you can reach into that world and be a companion to someone and make a real difference to how they cope, if you remember some simple steps.
Listen to the person, ask the person about their memories and their feelings about the loved one. You don’t have to have answers, the reality is that it is important that they have someone there and that they are listening without judgement. Tears can make people uncomfortable, yet often they are a good way to release emotional feelings, so be prepared for them and accept that the person needs to cry to cope at that moment and you should not try to stop them.
We often say at times of crisis, “If there is anything I can do, just let me know”. The grieving person may find it helpful if you suggest actual things that you could do with, or for them. "Could I get messages in for you?" or "Could I take you out for coffee?" and so forth. Remember that they are struggling with huge changes and making decisions can be difficult, so this takes the pressure off them to decide what they need.
We all worry about what not to say and high on the list is anything that starts “You should…” or “When I …”. If you want to make suggestions, think about using phrases like, “Have you thought about...” as this offers an element of choice, so that the person can still walk away and not feel they have to explain. Similarly, don’t try to fix the person’s grief - “time heals all” - you can’t know this and they may start to feel bad if they are not ‘getting better’ quickly enough. Everyone has their own way of grieving, there is no timetable and no fixed process.
It may be that they feel they need the help of a grief counsellor, yet remember that getting over a loss is difficult, so it can take many months. For the first year they will miss them at all the anniversaries of things they did together. Be a companion along the way supporting your friend’s choices and thoughts as they come to an acceptance.
The reality is that we can all be a good support for someone who is grieving. The real secret is to try.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.