How to help a grieving person
by Leanne Billiau
At one point or another, we have all experienced that feeling of genuinely wanting to help someone who is grieving, but not knowing what to say or do. It can be awkward as you may not feel comfortable with the raw emotions that can come with grief. It may trigger your own past or current losses. It may bring up fear about your own or a loved one’s death.
It is hard to see someone you care about in emotional pain and you may naturally want to “fix it” for them. Since it is not possible to fix grief or any other normal human emotion, trying to do so will only cause frustration for both of you. Instead, try some of these things:
Listen – Listening with an open heart can be the best thing you can do for a grieving person. Let them express any emotion or share any story they choose and take the time to listen. Try to be comfortable with both tears and silence.
Accept all feelings – Accepting and not passing judgment about what the grieving person is feeling or how you think they are coping can be very helpful. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time, so remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
Avoid clichés – It is better to say, “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I wish I had the right words, but I don’t know what to say”. It allows the griever to express whatever they choose and it respects their ability to figure out for themselves how they want to understand their loss.
Respect individual needs as well as cultural and religious differences – The way each of us grieves is influenced by cultural, religious and family traditions as well as our individual personalities, among other factors. Let the grieving person lead the way. It is their journey, so keep in mind that their traditions and needs may be different from your own.
Make specific offers of help – Instead of saying “Call me if I can do anything to help,” offer specific things like bringing a meal, babysitting, shopping, doing house/yard work. It is much easier for grieving people to accept specific offers of help than to use their limited energy trying to figure out who they should ask for what, and many don’t feel comfortable asking for help at all.
Be there – Checking in periodically, remembering them on special days and holidays, especially as the months and years go by, can show them you remember and care about them, even when others may have stopped asking. A card, a phone call, or an invitation, can go a long way in showing you care. Be accepting when invitations are declined as they may not feel ready for it, and offer another invitation after some time has passed.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of confusion or despair, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing…not curing…that is a friend indeed. -Henri Nouwen