When we were speaking with Emma Payne, the Founder of Grief Coach, she mentioned that a few years after the loss of her husband, she reconnected with family and friends whom she hadn’t heard from in a while. She found out why: they couldn’t think of what to say or how to support her after her husband’s passing.
We’ve all been there. When someone you care about is grieving a loss, it can be so difficult to know what to say or do. We’re afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing, and making them feel even worse, or we think there’s nothing we can do to make things better. All of these feelings are understandable, but unfortunately, they can lead us to avoid the needs of the grieving person altogether. We can get so caught up in worrying about doing the wrong thing, we miss the opportunity to do the right thing.
But what are the right things to do? How do you support someone who is grieving?
A good place to start is knowing that you don’t need to have all the answers and you don’t need to give advice. Why? Because there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently.
We know there are the famous “five stages of grief” but the emotions a griever experiences don’t always manifest in orderly chronological stages. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, and all you need to do is simply be there with them. That’s it (really). One day they may want a shoulder to cry on, on another day they may want to vent, or sit in silence, or share memories. At Circles, we recognize that one of the main pain points for people experiencing grief is feeling isolated and alone. Just being there and listening to them can be a huge source of support.
If you’re in a position where you need to speak and share but you’re really unsure what to say, you can actually just say that. Simply saying “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care” still allows the griever to know that you support them and are there for them.
That being said, sometimes the griever wants you to talk to them about the person that they lost. If you’re worried about making them feel worse by bringing up their loss, don’t be, because as Emma told us, the person is always in the mind of the griever. By talking about them, it’s like a release valve for the griever. It can also be comforting for the griever to know the impact their loved one had on you. If you don’t know the person, just make it a question. Ask about them. It’s an opportunity to memorialize the person that they lost.
In addition to emotional support, something that can be incredibly helpful for a griever is practical support. It can be difficult for many grieving people to ask for help, and they may not have the energy to help themselves. We know a classic way of offering help is to say “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” but instead of putting the onus on the griever, make it easier for them by making a specific offer. You could say, “I’m doing some grocery shopping this afternoon. What can I bring you from there?” or “I made lasagna for dinner and I have extra. When can I come by and bring you some?”
It’s also important to remember that your loved one will continue to grieve after the cards and flowers stop coming in, the tupperwares are emptied, and the other mourners have gone. Everyone’s timetable is different – whether it’s weeks, months, or years – and they may never feel the same, but after the initial shock, your support is more valuable than ever. Periodically checking in and being there when they need you is a strong sign of support, and one they will be grateful for.