Supporting someone experiencing grief and loss
When someone you care about is experiencing grief and loss, it can be difficult to know how to support them.
When someone you care about is experiencing grief and loss, it can be difficult to know how to support them. While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, these are some tips you can keep in mind when supporting a grieving person.
You might not always know what to say to someone who’s grieving but that’s okay as listening is more important. When you’re listening to someone who is grieving, make sure you put effort into being an active and compassionate listener. Remember to:
- Listen intently and with compassion.
- Prepare yourself to hear difficult thoughts and feelings. Grief can create complicated and dark realities for the grieving person, which can be challenging to hear.
- Try not to use platitudes when speaking to a grieving person as they can come across as uncaring and generic. Phrases like “Time heals all wounds”, “They are in a better place” and “There are other fish in the sea” may not be helpful to hear.
- Don’t force grieving people to talk. Sitting together in silence can sometimes be as comforting as talking.
This style of listening may be draining for you. Make sure you give yourself time to rest and process as well.
Everyone experiences grief differently. When listening to someone who is grieving, remember to allow them the freedom to express their grief in their own way. Don’t imply there’s a right and wrong way to grieve. Your role is to listen rather than guide or judge their grief.
Keep an Open Mind
The grieving person may feel confronting emotions that are difficult to understand and explain. When listening, try not to judge them for their feelings. They should focus on expressing their emotions rather than feeling like they need to justify those emotions.
Create a Safe Space
As a grieving person processes their experience, complicated feelings can emerge at different times. You can help them process their emotions by creating a safe space for self expression. Encourage them to speak about their feelings, even if they are hard to hear. For example, if a grieving person is blaming themselves, don’t cut them off. It can be an automatic reaction to say “Don’t talk like that,” or “Don’t say those things about yourself, you know that’s not true,” but they do not need validation at this time, rather acknowledgement of their current reality and feelings.
There’s no set timeline for how to grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Not every grieving person will go through the ‘Stages of grief’ you often hear about. You may feel disappointed or frustrated when the grieving process doesn’t line up with what you’ve read. Trying to push a grieving person through a set process and timeline you have read about might give them false hope or even leave them feeling lost or ashamed when their recovery isn’t as straight forward as expected.
The process of grieving can happen over years, not days. While the early days of grief may require friends and family to be more hands-on, a grieving person may need different types of support for a long while. Make sure you check in regularly to see how the person is going and reassure them you’re still there. Over time, you might find check-ins don’t need to focus on the grief itself. A check-in can become a text just to say hi or an email to share a funny story. Gentle gestures that let the grieving person feel your presence can help them feel connected and like life can return to normal again.