Supporting someone who is grieving.
Grief is complex. The way it impacts one person, will differ from the way it impacts another. The way we experience our grief when a loved one dies will depend on a number of factors including:
1. Who the person was.
2. Our relationship with them and whether we had a loving, caring relationship or something more complex. If, for example the relationship was abusive, it is likely that our experience of grief will be more nuanced and complicated.
3. How they died: We may grieve differently dependent on the type of death, for example suicide still has a range of societal stigmas attached to it and these can add further layers of complexity to our grief. If someone died in an accident we may experience survivor’s guilt, or the grieving process may be delayed if we have to deal with practicalities after the death, or feel we need to stay strong for other family members.
4. Our experience of previous losses: This can lead to expectations about how we grieve.
5. Our personality and mindset: This includes our coping strategies, support networks, and personal belief systems.
6. Our culture, customs, and faith: Grieving is different in different cultures and different mourning rituals, patterns and celebrations impact the ways in which we experience our grief.
To help someone who is grieving:
Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Often, we are not sure what to say, so we avoid the subject altogether. We need to be able to talk about the death. We can also help by providing a safe, private, confidential space if the person wants to talk with you and allow plenty of time to listen.
We can assess the best way to provide support by listening actively, with empathy and non-judgment and by asking open questions, reflecting back and summarising what we have heard to make sure we really understand. Simply allowing someone to talk about their loss can be helpful in itself and will also provide you with knowledge of the best way to proceed. Normalising someone’s experience and reassuring them that all emotions are normal and OK can be useful and simply listening and acknowledging someone’s experience can be helpful and reassuring. It is important to take your cue from the person you are talking with, recognising that we are all different and there is no one best way to grieve. It is also helpful to really recognise that we can’t fix anyone, or anything, even if we would like to. We can however assist…
The best way we can assist someone is to provide a range of supports on different levels. Practical support in the form of providing meals, doing the shopping, picking up the kids from school, driving the individual to meetings etc. can be hugely beneficial, especially in the early stages of grief, when everything may feel overwhelming. Encouraging someone to engage in self-help and self-support, makes a difference. Individuals may feel guilty going out, or engaging in activities they enjoy and reassuring them that this is not only a good idea, but necessary can be reassuring.
It can also be helpful to signpost them to further qualified, recognised, professional support. There is so much available in the form of counselling to talk through emotions, medical support to help with physical and emotional manifestations of grief…the list goes on.
Many people feel uncertain about what to say and do when talking with someone who is grieving. There are some simple rules that can make it easier:
“I am so sorry to hear that x died”
“I don’t know what to say right now, but I am so glad you told me”
“I was sorry to hear about the death of…”
“Please accept my condolences”
“I remember when X used to…”
DO use the name of the deceased
DO talk about the death
DO take your cues from the individual
DO mirror their language e.g. if they spoke about their Mum use this term
DO use the words “dead” or “died”
DO slow down and give small chunks of information
DO offer specific help (e.g. “Can I collect the kids from school/cook/do the shopping/help with paperwork/drive you to the solicitors?)
DO be there for the long haul. Grief doesn’t have a time limit
DO remember anniversaries and significant days
“I know how you feel” (You don’t!)
“What can I do?” (It’s too big a question)
DON’T use cliches such as:
“They are in a better place”
“They are at peace”
“They are out of pain”
“At least they aren’t suffering”
DON’T use euphemisms such as “passed away”, “gone” etc.
DON’T make assumptions
DON’T ask loads of questions
DON’T try to fix
The key with supporting someone who is grieving is to do so with the best intentions, to simply be there, and to recognise you need to be available for the long haul as the full impact of grief is often not felt for several months after a loved one has died.
There are huge individual and cultural differences when it comes to the experience of grief and grieving, but that we will experience it is one of life’s certainties and when it comes to making grief as good as possible, supporting one another through it is one of life’s necessities.
To find out more about the support available contact us at: