I have been asked what the best way is to support a grieving person. The simple answer is that while there are common strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Grief is personal and intimate. Sharing someone’s grief journey takes thought, compassion and a generous spirit. It also takes time and commitment. While the occasional remembrance of a grief-stricken person is admirable, grieving people report that their “go to” support person was the one who repeatedly reached out to them in small ways, reminding them they were not alone. Grief can be so isolating hence, “presence” matters.
When supporting someone, we must develop an appreciation of the loss from their point of view, make no assumptions. Embracing the complexities of loss is best done by walking closely, listening carefully and holding all in your heart. Whether someone lost a loved one to suicide, sickness, in childbirth, a car accident or old age, affects their grief. Not only the manner of death, but the history of their relationship with the deceased influences the support needed. My best ideas for supporting an individual came from reflecting on their loss.
Knowing the person you are trying to support is also key to helping them. Some people are private, some are more social with their grief. Take your lead from them. Don’t go faster than the person you are trying to help, even if their pace seems exceedingly slow. Don’t let your need to “do something” get in the way of their need to be present to their grief. The single greatest gift you can give a grieving person is to be with them, where they are and as they are. No matter how helpless it makes you feel, avoid the need to “fix it.”
If you are supporting a grieving person, also take a minute to review these common myths about grief and be careful not to play into them.
- People will feel good if they just try, they need to move on
- There are stages and tasks you must go through
- Grief lessens with time, usually a year
- It’s best not to dwell on your loss
- The intensity and duration of your grief reflect how much you loved the deceased
When supporting someone in grief, you need a listening ear, and a generous, compassionate heart. It helps to make a list of simple acts of kindness you can do to remind them they are not alone. Keep the list handy and during the first few months after their loss, do one each week. Whether it is sending a note, a card, making a phone call or dropping off an unexpected meal, these weekly reminders will prove you are holding them closely. At the end of the day, the best way to support a grieving person is to hold them in your heart and not be shy about showing them.
“All you need is one safe anchor to keep you grounded when the rest of your life spins out of control.” —Katie Kacvinsky