How can you help someone who is grieving?
It is really hard to see those you care about suffering. Our natural instinct is to try and fix the problem, but there are times this isn’t possible. When someone experiences a bereavement the cause of their pain can’t be undone and it is only with time that life will become easier again. So what can you do to help someone when they are grieving?
When people look back on the early days after the death of a loved one they rarely remember the specific words people said to them, but they do remember those that were there for them. They appreciate the people that checked in to see if they could help, those who were available to listen and the people who didn’t disappear.
When bereaved, people often feel isolated and alone. The world and everyone around them can appear to be continuing on as normal, but their world will never be the same. You aren’t expected to “fix” anything or to stop them from feeling sad, but you can be there for them during a difficult time to support them when needed.
Ways to help a friend who is grieving
Everyone grieves in their own way and on different timelines. Even if you have been through a similar situation you won't know exactly how they are feeling. You are not expected to know what they need, but there are things that you can do to help:
Don’t have expectations
Try not to expect your friend to behave or feel in a particular way because you might unintentionally say something which can make them feel worse. For instance telling them “it is ok to cry” might be reassuring if they are actually crying, but if they are currently feeling numb they may feel they are doing something wrong when really they are feeling a normal emotion.
Follow their lead
If your friend is in the mood to talk then listen, if they want to stay quiet then keep them company without the pressure of conversation. You won't always get it right, but getting it wrong is better than not trying at all.
Make sure your friend knows you are there for them when they need you. They might want to be alone so let them know you will be there when they need someone. Don’t just leave the ball in their court though, continue to check in with them regularly.
Say their name
Don’t be afraid to say the name of the deceased and be open to talking about them if it isn’t too painful for you. Often people avoid mentioning the person because they are worried about upsetting their friend. When someone loses a person they love that person will be in their thoughts a lot, they will get upset and they will cry, but you are unlikely to be making them more upset by talking about them.
It can be helpful for them to know you are thinking about the deceased too and that they haven’t been forgotten about. This is particularly important around key dates and anniversaries. It is normal for people to still feel some grief years after losing a loved one especially on a special occasion or when something triggers a memory.
Offer practical help
Rather than a blanket offering like “let me know if you need anything” try offering specific help eg “can I get some food from the shops for you?” or “would you like me to have the children for a few hours on Saturday?”. When someone is overwhelmed with grief it can be hard to think of what they need help with so specific suggestions make it easier for them to accept help.
Recognise cultural differences
Different religions and cultures have different beliefs around death, if your background differs significantly to your friend then it might be useful to find out what their beliefs are. You can start with a quick Google to get some basic understanding and then maybe talk to them to find out more if they are feeling up to talking about it.
Remember they are grieving
It sounds obvious, but grief will make people behave in different ways to normal. If they forget your birthday or major events you are going through it’s not because they mean to hurt you or to be selfish, it’s because it can be very hard to remember what else is going on around them.
How to help others with their grief when you are grieving too
Processing your own grief at the same time as helping others who are bereaved can be very difficult. This may be the case for instance if you are a parent supporting a bereaved child, or if your parent has died and your other parent or siblings need support. In some ways, it can be helpful because it gives you something to focus on and push you through each day, but it can also mean you don’t have the time you need to mourn especially if you are caring for young children.
Don’t feel you need to hide how you feel
Loved ones won't want to see you upset, but showing how you feel can help normalise their feelings too. This is especially true with children who need to know it’s ok and normal to feel sad, but also that they are allowed to laugh and feel other emotions.
Focus on your needs
To be strong enough to support others you need to meet your needs too. Take time to stop, pause and breathe. It’s ok to say that you aren’t feeling able to talk right now and ask to do it later or to say you need to go for a walk on your own. You will be able to support them better if you look after yourself. Prioritise making sure you eat regularly, wash each day and go to bed at your normal time, even if you find you can’t sleep.
If the people you care about are all grieving then you might struggle to find people to help you. Hope Therapy have experienced Bereavement Counsellors who will work with you in a tailor-made approach to provide the support you need.
More resources written by the same author that may be of help