Grief. That unwelcome guest that becomes known to all of us at some point in our lives. Actually, at multiple points in our lives. It is sharp. And overwhelming. And confusing.
It can also be its own kind of tough to watch someone in our lives go through a grief process that we are not. A friend who lost a parent. A coworker who grieves the loss of a cousin. A neighbor who lost their child. No matter the situation or the relationship, it can present some mental and emotional overwhelm. “How do I act?” “Do they want me to avoid the topic?” “Will it be too painful if I say their loved one’s name?”
All of these questions are so valid. But sometimes, the massive uncertainty about how to handle someone else’s grief can lead to us not doing anything at all. “I don’t want to mess up so I will just skirt around it.” And while that may come from a completely innocent and relatable place, we at Marble Wellness want to give you some tips that can make it a little bit of a smoother journey.
10 Ways to Support Someone in Their Grief:
1) Say the name of the person who died. Invite them to talk about them once in awhile. Share your own memories of that person. Specifically ask them how they are doing with their grief and pain. Your asking won't make the griever think about the death. They are ALWAYS thinking about the person who died.
2) Get out your phone right now and put a reminder in your calendar one year from the date that person died. Include the year of death. This way, you know not only the anniversary of passing, but will be able to remember the larger anniversaries (5 years, 10 years, etc).
3) There is no “right thing to say.” It is much more about your presence + checking in. There doesn’t need to be a reason to check in.
Also: keep up that checking in. The isolation after the funeral, and then again after the first anniversary of the loved one’s passing, becomes very real. (This is also where #2 can be helpful.) It can make a world of difference to send a text, or ask in-person, "how are you doing with your grief? I'm still thinking about you."
4) At the holidays, ask your person if there is any way they would like to honor the memory of their person. Holidays include more than Thanksgiving and Christmas. And more than Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…….did they do anything special on the 4th of July or St. Patrick’s Day? Was Valentine’s Day or Halloween something special in that relationship?
Also, be aware of events that aren’t necessarily holidays. Things like sporting events, the first day of the new year, and important life milestones. These often can hit the griever(s) more than the holidays because the emotional impact can be a surprise, something they didn’t expect to be hard, like Christmas.
5) Know that there are going to be ups and downs for your person. It’s a roller coaster, not a linear journey. They could be completely fine for a whole week, and then suddenly have a very angry or very sad day.
6) Don’t try to be their therapist or pastor. Encourage them to talk to those people if you see the emotional burden isn’t lifting after about 6 weeks. Or if you’re seeing concerning behaviors (inability to get out of bed; increase in alcohol consumption; appetite issues; sleep disturbances).
7) It is okay to cry or shed some tears in the presence of the grieving person. You’re human, too! It can be helpful. It is just important that the grief process doesn’t become about you if it is their loved one who passed away.
8) It’s okay to ask them how to help, but it might be hard for them to figure it out. If that’s the case, just make the decision. Drop off the meal. Hire the cleaning service. Say you’ll be over at 10am on Saturday to do a few loads of laundry and watch the kids so they can just leave the house. Gauge the intervention on the relationship, but then know it’s okay to make the decision.
9) Give them space and understanding to be sad. There will be a day your person is unexpectedly down, or emotional, or withdrawn. Let them be all of those emotions. Relax expectations and increase understanding on those days. They might not need you to “get it” as far as truly understanding how they are feeling, but they will appreciate the gentle understanding that it’s okay to cancel last minute.
10) Be gentle, but still hold boundaries. You don’t have to change everything about your daily routine, needs, etc. to be a good friend to them in their time of need.
We hope this helps you feel a little more secure, knowledgeable, and confident when you’re interacting with someone going through the grief process. If you have more questions, want more support, or think your friend or family member may need someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out!
If you would like to learn more about how we partner with individuals in grief counseling, you can click here. If you'd like to read more about our therapist who specializes in grief therapy, click here.
Talk to you soon!
Marble Wellness is a St. Louis counseling practice that specializes in counseling for anxious and depressed adults and kids, those with dealing with grief or chronic illness, overwhelmed moms, and stressed out couples. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website. If you have questions or would like to get started in working together in the therapy process, contact us today or request an appointment now!