Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How to Support Someone Who is Grieving

Photo by Alexsandar Radanovic
By Emily Alvarez

When someone close to you experiences extreme loss, you want to help. Words often fail at this time and we’re left faltering for the right thing to do or say. When flustered, it can be frustrating to find the “perfect” way to support or respond. One can be so scared of doing the wrong thing, they end up doing nothing. While doing nothing is an option, it’s not a very good one.

While there’s no one perfect way to respond or support someone, here are six tips on how to support someone who is grieving.

1. Their loss is not about you.

Grief belongs to the griever. If you’re taking a supporting role to someone who is grieving, it’s important to remember that their grief is not about you. Most suggestions, advice, and “help” that are given don’t actually help the griever. It tells them that they should be feeling differently than they do. Grief is different for everyone, so you can’t expect one person’s experience to match another.

2. Stick with the present and the truth.

While it might be easy, try to avoid making statements about the past or future. Try to stay away from generalized statements about their situation. There is no way you could know if someone is in a “better place” or “finished their work here.” These platitudes don’t make anyone but the giver feel better. Reminding the griever that their past life was good isn’t a great trade for their current pain. These are the statements that work: “this sucks”, “I love you”, “I’m here.”

Photo by Fellowship of the Rich
3. You can't fix this.

Your friend’s loss can’t be fixed, solved, or repaired. This pain can’t be made better. Skip saying anything that tries to fix this unfixable thing and you’ll be fine. Your first instinct is to try to fix things, but unfortunately, you just can’t. Be supportive without trying to fix.

4. Anticipate, don't ask.

If you say, “call me if you need anything,” your friend won’t call. Not because they don’t need help, but because figuring out what their needs might be is beyond their ability. Make tangible promises like, “I will be there on Monday at 5:00 pm to make you dinner” or “I’ll walk your dog every morning on my way to work.” Don’t wait for them to ask for help, anticipate that they will need your help. On the flipside, don’t do anything irreversible. Don’t surprise your friend by doing the laundry or cleaning the house without asking. You might be cleaning the last piece they have of their loved one. Do simple tasks that, while necessary, can make a difference.

5. Become a buffer.

Photo by Tim Marshall
When someone is grieving, having people constantly coming up to them or wanting to give support can be overwhelming. What should be a personal and private time can feel too open. Becoming a buffer between others and your friend can take a load off their plate. Be the go-between and relay information to the outside world or organize the well-wishers. Buffers are really helpful.

6. Love.

Above everything else, love. Be there. Be a friend. Show up. Say and do something. Be willing to stand beside the giant gaping hole that opened in your friend’s life without out turning away. Listen. Be willing to not have all the answers. Be willing to get the answers they need. Be present. Show your love.

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