How to Support Someone Grieving

Grief and loss is hard. It’s complex, emotional, and dynamic. Instead of avoiding the subject because it’s hard or scary, we encourage you to lean in to that discomfort and ask yourself why you have that reaction. Before we can begin to support someone experiencing grief, we must examine our own relationship with grief and beliefs that surround it. Click the common grief misconceptions below to read a more accurate representation of grief:

Grief Myth #1:

Grief follows a set of five stages.

In reality, some people may experience the feelings associated with each stage (anger, denial, depression, bargaining, acceptance), but there are a multitude of other feelings that come as well, sometimes all at once. Grief is not linear and we often can feel like we’re taking two steps forward and one step back while moving through our grief.

Grief Myth #2:

Grief only lasts 6-12 months.

Every person has their own grief timeline and each experience with grief will be different. Grief has no expiration date and we feel the fallout from our losses for the rest of our lives.

Grief Myth #3:

If I bring it up, it will just make them sad again.

Chances are, the person’s loss is rarely far from their mind. If you check in and they don’t want to talk about it, they will let you know. Either way, they’ll probably appreciate you checking in.

Grief Myth #4:

If they're not talking about their grief, that means they're not sad/grieving.

There are many different ways to grieve. For some people, talking about their grief is an effective way to process their feelings. For others, they are much more private and process by taking action.

So, what can I do?

Check in with them, beyond the first initial grieving period. Be present and consistent but try not to be offended if they prefer to grieve privately. Try setting alerts for important dates or milestones to remind yourself to check in on the days that may be extra hard.

Offer concrete assistance. It’s very common to ask someone “What do you need?” or say “I’m here if you need anything” when they’re grieving. It’s also very common for someone to not know what they need because they are in survival mode and just trying to get through the day (or hour … or minute). Instead of asking, come up with a couple options of how you may be able to support and offer them those options. Are you a great cook? Offer to drop off a meal. Do you love driving? Ask them if they have any errands you can help with. Lean on your strengths and abilities then let them decide. Other ideas: help with their children or pets, set up a cleaning service or help them with cleaning, offer to organize a memory box for their person, help them with sort through their person’s belongings when they’re ready, research resources for them, etc.

Listen. Actually listen. The most effective way to support someone grieving is to listen to them. We live in a society that shies away from grief and loss leading some grievers to feel isolated. Try not to offer advice unless asked for and avoid using cliches like “they’re in a better place now” or “at least they’re not suffering”. Try asking them about the person they lost, what they were like or their favourite memories of them. Learn to be comfortable with silence.

Meet them where they’re at. Let go of your expectations of grief and allow them to feel whatever they’re feeling, validate their feelings and don’t judge them. Try not to imagine how you would feel or act, even if you’ve experienced your own losses.

Push back against the need to fix their grief or offer solutions. Let their pain exist and be willing to sit with them through it. Try focusing on supporting instead of comforting. Comforting seeks to ease someone’s pain while supporting acknowledges the pain and attempts to help carry the load. Comforting is a normal reaction to someone hurting, we all want to cheer someone up when they’re sad. Rarely does looking on the bright side work when someone is hurting. Instead, support them by acknowledging the pain they’re going through. 

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