What is it about grief that sends so many otherwise wonderful people running in the other direction?
Why do so many have a hard time understanding what is helpful to someone in grief?
The answers are many and vary from person to person, but in a general sense many of us don’t know how to deal with grief because no one ever taught us the tools to handle difficult emotions, our own or someone else’s.
This is no failing.
The good news: learning how to be responsive to grief is not difficult.
I think that there should be a class on emotional intelligence taught to children in school. It is pretty obvious to anyone who has ever suffered the loss of something important to them that most of us have no idea what we are doing when it comes to dealing with grief.
So you know someone who has recently suffered a loss: job, death, marriage, house foreclosure, inability to get pregnant, and you are wondering,
“What can I do to be supportive and helpful?”
1. Acknowledge their loss. Something as simple as a hug and “I’m sorry” is all that is required.
2. Make personal and meaningful contact: Call them. Visit. Send a card. Write a personal note.
3. Listen with compassion. Let them talk about it. If it is a death, use the person’s name in the conversation.
4. Be open and honest. “I don’t know what to say but I love and support you” is a wonderful offering.
5. Bring a dish of food over, take care of housework, offer childcare, go for a walk with them. Don’t ask, just do it. Saying “call if you need anything” is not very helpful because a grieving person doesn’t always know that they need anything.
6. Provide ongoing help and support. There is no timeline for grieving. There is really no end point either. If the person has suffered a particularly large loss, it is not something you ever “get over.” Life goes on and the urgency of the grief passes, but understand that they will have good days and bad days, sometimes even years later. That is ok.
7. It is normal for a grieving person to feel sadness, disorientation, confusion, like they are going crazy and with time the immediacy of these feelings will start to fade, but if the feelings don’t or start to get worse it is important for the grieving party to seek a qualified third party for support.
I think that many of us are afraid of saying the wrong thing or being insensitive to the grieving person’s feelings and to be honest you will not always say the “right” or most comforting thing during this time, but it is important to be there for the person anyways.
If all else fails, show up and sit in silence. Just knowing that you are not alone in a time of hardship and feeling safe are all that are required for healing to begin.
For those of you who are curious about what not to say to someone after a loss here are a few tips of the trade.