Supporting A Grieving Loved One
Supporting a loved one through grief can feel overwhelming, confusing, and even uncomfortable. We’re simply not taught specific skills or language around grief in today’s culture. It can be challenging and frustrating when you want to be helpful and yet you find yourself getting tongue tied or frozen around what to do or say. While there are many things you can do (and also avoid doing) I thought I’d offer a few tips that may come in useful when you find yourself in a supportive role.
It is very important to allow a loved one time and space to grieve. Healing happens at its own pace, so it is essential to have patience and remember that everyone’s journey will look different. Two words that can be very hurtful and dismissive to a grieving person are the words “move on.” I’ve heard many grievers say they’ve been told this over the years. Telling someone to move on is the opposite of helpful, and can actually be quite harmful. One does not “get over” the loss of a loved one, however they can learn to move forward while continuing to honor their loss in meaningful ways. The memories of their loved one will forever live in their heart. Telling someone to move on is often about the friend or family member’s own discomfort. They may be wishing for the griever to somehow “bounce back,” but the reality is that there is no timeline. A supportive statement would look like, “Remember to be kind to yourself as you grieve.” You can also support your loved one by creating new ways/rituals to honor the deceased as they integrate the loss into their lives.
Another common statement is, “I know how you feel.” Even though you may have been through a similar loss, this does not mean that you know exactly how the griever is feeling. Every relationship is unique, therefore the feelings a person is having surrounding their loss are going to be individual to them. To acknowledge this, it can be helpful to say something like, “I can’t know exactly how you’re feeling, but I’m here for you.” This is honoring their personal feelings around the loss while also letting them know that you’re present.
It is also important to not shut down your loved one’s feelings. They must be allowed to feel their grief, which may include a wide variety of emotions as they navigate their way. Allow them the room to talk about what they’re experiencing. Honor them in their vulnerability. Moving through their feelings takes a great deal of strength and also allows them to process their pain. You don’t need to have the answers or offer any solutions. After all, there is no perfect thing to say. Being a loving listener, free of judgment, is a beautiful and supportive gift that you can provide. A supportive statement could be, “I know there are no perfect words to say, but I will always be here to listen.”
For more helpful tips you can check out my free printable PDF, Supporting a Grieving Loved One, which provides a list of actionable items and words. This list may also be helpful for a griever to share with their support system, or for anyone in a caregiving role.