The journey through grief.
Most of us have been here. Our friend, relative, work colleague, has experienced a loss. They seem okay. Then suddenly we’re caught off guard. And we crumble in the face of the other person’s grief. We don’t know what to say, what to do. We think that whatever we say will just make things worse. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. They seem inconsolable. We trot out a platitude then instantly regret it because the words sounded so trite. We feel useless, awkward, and helpless. Then we turn away. We do the opposite of what we really want to do, and that is providing support through the journey of grief.
In some instances, it may not be the death of a loved one that causes the onset of grief. Grief can be felt over any significant loss a person may experience.
Tips for supporting the person you care about through difficult times.
Here are some ways to help provide support to someone grieving a loss.
Tears are okay
Crying is very therapeutic. It is our human expression of sorrow and grief. Bottling it up serves no positive purpose. Letting your special person know that they can express their feeling in your company will help them come to terms with their loss more completely than if they have to pretend that everything is normal.
Be a listener
Listen to the person you are supporting. Be in the moment with them. They’ll feel your empathy and know you are caring for them. Sometimes the simple act of being there is the greatest support you can give.
If someone has experienced the death of a family member or significant person in their life, use the word “died” rather than any euphemisms. This helps demonstrate your willingness to have open communication and that you won’t shy away from their grief. Likewise, if the bereaved wants to use expressions or words other than died, go with their style of communication.
Let the person talk about their loss and how it occurred if they want. Remember, there are many types of losses that can have a huge impact on a person’s life. Death or significant loss can have a lack of reality to it, especially during the immediate post loss time. Talking about the loss can help the grieving person accept the loss as real.
For some people, being able to speak about the person or the circumstances of the loss can help lessen the pain with the re-telling of the story. This can help with coming to terms with the loss and help the person with their grief. Remember that grief and the emotions that it can evoke are as unique as each individual. How one person expresses their grief may be different to someone else.
Contrary to what we may think, a person who has lost someone or something dear to them may enjoy reminiscing about the deceased person (or animal if it is a pet the person has lost). There will be no new memories of the deceased person so reminiscing can help keep the lived experience of this person active. This is part of the journey that many mourners need to make. The person who died has probably played a significant role in your person’s life. To expect them to suddenly erase that individual from their history, not want to remember or reminisce about them, simply makes no sense.
Nothing is more soul destroying than being told a platitude. People often utter words that are insensitive and meaningless in order to make themselves feel comfortable. It’s a way of deflecting the discomfort that grief can arouse in people. Honesty is better than a platitude. Platitudes can sound disingenuous and dismissive of the depth of someone’s loss. Acknowledge you don’t know what to say, but that you are there for your person and you want to support them.
Think of it as a journey through, not over
When we experience the loss of a person, relationship, companion pet, employment or any one of a myriad of losses, we commence a journey. We travel through our experience. The object or person that is no longer with us has had a significant impact on our lives and that is why we feel the loss so greatly. By thinking in terms of journeying through the loss, we acknowledge that the person or object has contributed to who we are and where we are now. We work at incorporating the person or object into our narrative, rather than trying to ‘get over’ its existence and the contribution they made to us.
Embrace the silence
Sitting with your special person in silence may seem uncomfortable initially. But silence can be healing, calming, relaxing. It allows time for thoughts to form and emotion to express itself. We don’t need to fill the space with words. Silence can be golden.
Feeling awkward is fine
The death of a significant person and the grief experienced by those around them, can bring out the awkward in us all. We don’t know what to say, how to act. To cover our embarrassment, we often say things that we could kick ourselves about the moment the words leave our mouths.
Just go with the feeling and try to accept that you are feeling uncomfortable. It will pass. Just as with silence, you’ll settle into it and find your zone. The person you are supporting will probably let you know, in their own way, what they need. Focus on being there for them rather than how awkward you might be feeling.
Maintain a routine
Let the bereaved know that you want to help. They may feel that asking for help will be a burden to you. Reassure them that you are willing and want to help.
Offer specific help. “I’m going for groceries. What can I pick up for you at the supermarket?” Sometimes, especially in the early stages of coping with a loss, the grieving person may not be able to tell you. You may have to make some decisions for them.
Some routine is good, to help keep reality going, especially if there are children, or others, that need to be cared for. Ask what you can do to help, and offer assistance that will ensure the everyday activities are attended to. In the immediate time after a loss things like utility bills, feeding the dog or reading a story to a child can be overlooked. But these little things can help keep people grounded. It’s the little things, like milk for a cup of tea that can make a big difference.
Once the funeral or immediate shock of a significant change in someone’s life has occurred, support and sympathy can disappear quite quickly, leaving the bereaved person feeling isolated and unsupported. This can be when they need support the most.
Eventually the person you are supporting will move through their journey and come to some sort of reconciliation of their grief and incorporate their loss into their narrative. Sometimes, though, the journey can stall. The person seems ‘stuck’.
Some signs that a person is not adjusting to their loss:
- Neglecting self care such as personal hygiene
- Difficulty doing daily tasks
- Not eating
- Using alcohol or drugs to lessen to dull their feelings
- Withdrawal from others and activities
- Excessive and ongoing anger, bitterness or guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Continued focus on the death
- Extended period of grief that seems to not less in intensity with time
- Talk of suicide
Keep a watch and step in if you believe that the person you are supporting seems to not be rejoining the world, or if they are not coping. Suggest they seek assistance or offer to help support them to reach out for help.
Finally, be you.
There are many ways that we as friends or relatives can support a significant person in our lives through their grief. Sometimes the sheer force of someone’s grief can seem overwhelming. But don’t turn away. You don’t have to fix things or try to make them forget or distract them. It is our task as support people, to help our person come to terms with the loss and that means them journeying through their grief. Implement the suggestions above to help you find your unique way of supporting the person you love.
If you find that you, as a support person, are needing help, reach out for assistance. You can contact Refocus Counselling Services or call 0401 441 266 to see if we can support you.