How to support someone in grief

From the sharing on my last Facebook post about unintentional, insensitive comments made to those who are grieving, I determined 3 different categories:

  1. Comments made at the visitation/memorial.
  2. How relationships change and support declines within weeks following the death.
  3. The impatience towards a person grieving after the first year.

Attending a Visitation can feel awkward, causing some anxiety as to what can be said to ease the pain, when in reality, there are no words. The most common, and I think safest comment is “I’m sorry for the loss of your (husband, child, etc)” The only other thing is to give a hug. A hug requires no words and communicates empathy and compassion. That’s it!!!

Since nothing equals the pain of our loss, there is no comparison. We all have our own grief print and the way in which our grief is expressed is personal and sacred. Also, please do not tell the person that you know just how they feel. You don’t!!

Inquiries of the death is another area I find to be quite common. Stop and consider how exhausting this can be to retell the story to numerous people in the course of an evening. You can always discuss this while visiting a few weeks later, but only if the subject is brought up, otherwise it is insensitive, intrusive, and no one’s business.

Just a few bits of advice I have learned from the bereaved:

  • Don’t tell your friend or family member to call if they need you. There isn’t the energy while in early grief to call for support. Mark your calendar to remind yourself to call.
  • Dinner invitations are frequently declined during the first few months, but keep asking, one day the answer will be “yes”
  • “Words aren’t necessary, just sit with me.”

The list can go on and on and I’m sure you have your own experiences to share, as some of you have on my previous post.

Within weeks following the death, promises of support go by the wayside as everyone returns to their routine, leaving the bereaved feeling alone in their grief. There is some avoidance too because of the discomfort with the changes in that person brought on by grief.

I debated on whether or not I should put in these few examples and decided it was important to read how these comments and actions can be so hurtful and insensitive, and learn from them.

I think it’s safe to say we can identify with some of these examples, including myself.

  • How would it feel if you were in a store shopping a few weeks following the death of your child and a friend saw you and abruptly turned around and went in a different direction
  • Three weeks following the death of her husband of over 60 years, this grieving widow was told by her adult child that no one wanted to “hear about it anymore” and she should be getting involved with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren instead of feeling sorry for herself!
  • Recently, a new client told me of her disappointment with the lack of support from her siblings following the death of her husband. She described the relationships with them as being “tight-knit,” and had assumed they would always be there to give her the much-needed support.  A few weeks following the services she was invited out for dinner one time with each sibling and hasn’t been invited since!! That was eight months ago! She was told that she is a reminder that her husband had died when they see her and they didn’t know what to say or do because of the changes in her.
  • A young woman dedicated the last few years of her mother’s life being her caregiver. A few weeks following her mother’s death, she went to see her family physician who told her to get a job and go to church!

This is Grief

When someone experiences the death of a loved one, grief becomes the uninvited, intrusive guest. Those who were fun-loving prior to the death change without a choice! I’ve had clients come in and ask how they can hurry through their grief and return to their former selves realizing they aren’t fun to be around because of the unpredictability of their grief emotions. Without that much needed support there is isolation, loneliness, and disconnection, which can complicate the grief experience.

Grief is complex and involves not just the person who died but all of the secondary losses that go along with that loss, such as companionship, sense of purpose, identity, to name just a few. Grief is unpredictable and can show up at any time, even years later. A simple reminder of their loved one and Bam!!! The tears start.

Grief isn’t something to “get over”, but rather learn to live with and learn how to engage in life again without the deceased.

Intolerance towards a person following the first year and beyond.

Society is intolerant of grief and the message is to not talk about it. Even upon returning to work there is the expectation that the employee will return to the previous level of work performance. This can be very challenging though, because of the unpredictability of grief emotions. Oftentimes, the person puts on a “mask” and pretends everything is ok, knowing that’s what wants to be heard.

This is especially true following the first year anniversary of the death. There is this assumption for many that grief is over after the first year, and now instead of talking about their grief, there is shame added to the mixture. Comments are made in regard to being over their grief by now, that they are looking for attention, and they are feeling sorry for themselves.

How can I help?

I’ve addressed the areas of concern and now it’s time to provide helpful ideas that apply to everyone. I feel the most important advice I can give is to communicate, communicate, communicate!!!!

Since we often cover up how we’re feeling when asked, there can be the assumption from others that you actually are doing ok, when in reality, you aren’t. Family and friends can’t mind read and know support is needed so it is up to you to call or text to let friends know you need them.

Social Media is a great way to communicate. I can always tell by poems and quotes posted on Facebook how someone is feeling at that particular moment. The hug, tears, and broken heart emoji responses provide that much-needed sense of connection and empathy. Shared pictures and memories of your loved one also help keep their memory alive.

Support groups are very beneficial. This is the place to share your story with others and feel that connection that your grief is understood and validated without judgment. There are even groups specific to the loss and on-line groups where you don’t even have to leave the house.

Here are a few of the groups available:

  • Compassionate Friends for child loss
  • LOSS Loving Outreach for Survivors of Suicide
  • HERO for the death of a loved one to addiction
  • Churches and hospices also provide grief groups.

It is important to keep our loved one’s memory alive, and since we all have our unique grief print, we also have our unique way in which to honor him/her. Here’re a few examples:

Relay for Life, Walks for suicide awareness, golf outings, fundraisers, breast cancer awareness, bracelets specific to the loss with the person’s name on it etc . Add to the list!!

These events provide a way in which to share and honor your loved one with family, friends, and strangers who understand your grief.

In conclusion, the unintentional, insensitive comments will continue and support will be non- existent after a while, but it is my hope that with the grief education provided, there will be improved awareness of words used and compassion shown to someone in grief.

As many will agree, we grieve all losses. I will address non-death losses with my next post. If you’d like to share your experience, please PM me or post on my Facebook page.

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