When I first lost my mom, I had so many well-meaning friends and relatives offer help, advice, and words of encouragement. The outpouring of support was amazing, yet a little overwhelming at the same time. Everyone meant well, and I certainly appreciated the sentiments, but it was difficult for me to express what I really needed at any given time.
It wasn’t until I started speaking with several friends and relatives who also lost loved ones that I discovered I wasn’t alone. Several told me they too, had a difficult time figuring out how to help their friends help them through the grieving process. People have a tendency to want to “fix” the bereaved, but many times, all we’re looking for is someone who is brave enough to sit in the trenches of grief warfare with us.
Because people naturally want to offer their help and support to those going through loss, I asked my friends to send me their thoughts on grief support (what really helps… and what doesn’t). Some of them have been walking this road a long time, while others only briefly.
Together with my own thoughts, I created the list below as a guide for those supporting others through grief.
• Grief is an individual journey, and should never be compared to another’s. As unique as snowflakes, the paths of grief people walk don’t simply go from Point A to Point B. They are winding up and down and back and forth, all at various times and places. Equating your friend’s journey to someone else’s (or maybe your own), even when done in empathy, diminishes your friend’s feelings. It’s even worse when someone asks, “Don’t you think it’s time to move on?” People never really “move on” from grief, and unrealistic expectations for that should be set aside. The grief process will be as long or as short as we need it to be.
• Band-Aid words and phrases, such as, “They are in a better place,” or, “They are no longer suffering,” might seem harmless, but they actually downplay our grief. Those words might also offend someone who may or may not hold similar religious beliefs. Instead, if you can’t think of anything else to say, a simple and sincere, “I am so sorry you are going through this,” will suffice.
People have a tendency to want to “fix” the bereaved, but many times, all we’re looking for is someone who is brave enough to sit in the trenches of grief warfare with us.
• When you broadly ask, “How are you doing?” it should be sincere, and you should be willing to “go there” if we start discussing our feelings. If you think you might be uncomfortable with our response, or if you’re just looking for a simple, “I’m OK,” please stay away from this question. Only ask if you truly want to know.
• We want you to remember our loved one. Say her name. Tell us a story about him. Do something special at a family gathering or holiday. We miss our person so much, but contrary to human intuition, it does not upset us when that person is brought up in our presence. It actually helps us heal. We need those memories, those stories, those experiences. They make us feel less alone in our grief. We don’t always have to be sad when talking about our loved one.
• Our grief doesn’t end when the funeral does, but for others, it appears easy to pick back up where life left off. Our loved one seems forgotten. We seem forgotten. Our lives are in limbo while the rest of the world moves on without us and without our person. Simple reminders (like a handwritten note or card in the mail, flowers, or an invitation for coffee) go a long way in reassuring us that you still remember and you still care.
• Don’t be afraid to make us laugh. Tell us about something funny that happened to you or show us a funny video you saw on the Internet. Humor is a good reprieve from grief. Even on our saddest days, we still need laughter.
As unique as snowflakes, the paths of grief people walk don’t simply go from Point A to Point B. Equating your friend’s journey to someone else’s (or maybe your own), even when done in empathy, diminishes your friend’s feelings.
• Sometimes, all we need is a listening ear. We don’t need advice or words of wisdom. We don’t need encouragement. We just need to have you listen to us. Sometimes we just want to sit in silence with someone so we feel like we aren’t alone. Sometimes we just need you to hold us as we sit on the bathroom floor and cry. Grief sucks. It is messy and gritty and miserable at times. Have patience with us. Be willing to meet us where we are on any given day. Be understanding that we are not going to be the same person we were before our grief, and that’s OK. Show us grace. We will have OK days, but we’ll also have not-so-OK days, too.
• Don’t ask, just do. Instead of saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” take the initiative to bring over a favorite meal or help with household chores. If we have kids, come snag them for a movie or play date. If we have groceries to purchase or errands to run, ask us for the list and pick up a few things while you’re already out. Don’t let us talk you out of helping, either. Sometimes, we will be stubborn and insist we don’t need help, but we always appreciate the extra hand. It takes stress off of us during an already emotionally challenging time.
• Going forward, our friendship won’t always be about loss. As time passes and we heal, we still want to have girls’ nights and double dates. We still want to have fun and live our lives. We might be changed in some ways, but we are still the same in many others. Don’t forget to include us in an event just because you think we might not be up for it. Sometimes we’ll say yes and sometimes we won’t, but knowing our presence is wanted regardless lets us know you value our relationship.
Grief sucks. It is messy and gritty and miserable at times. Have patience with us. Be willing to meet us where we are on any given day.
Helping a close friend or relative through the grief process is not an easy task. It takes commitment, patience, understanding, and lots of love. Relationships can either be solidified or fizzle out, depending on how willing someone is to sit in the trenches of grief with another. Knowing someone is prepared to strap on the armor and face the battle with us can make all the difference in the world.
You may want to hear this episode of This Grit and Grace Life, as our podcast co-host shares about her unexpected loss: Closing the Year With Grit and Grace – 020.
You’ll also like What to Do with All the ‘This Is Us’ Feels, When Bearing Their Burden Breaks You, How to Move On From the Loss of a Dream in a Healthy Way and When You’re Desperate to Know the Reason for Your Pain.