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Supporting Someone Through Grief
Posted by caroll
30th Mar 2020

Grieving is one of the hardest things that we as human beings are likely to go through. However, as hard as it is for us to grieve ourselves, sometimes it can be just as difficult to watch someone we love go through loss. There’s a certain feeling of helplessness of uselessness that comes with being the person supporting the other, especially if the loss and grief doesn’t affect you personally - for example a spouse dealing with their partner’s grief for a parent.

But as we all know if we’ve ever experienced grief or times of hardship ourselves, having someone to turn to or having a shoulder to cry on can make all the difference to our mental health and the recovery process. If there is someone in your life who is going through grief or bereavement and you’re at a loss as to how to behave around them, here are some simple and helpful steps that you can make to help them during their journey.

Learn to Listen

It may seem obvious and deceptively easy to just ‘listen’ to someone, but in actual fact, for some people, it can be the hardest task in the world. When someone is emotionally overwhelmed, unsolicited advice can feel stressful and suffocating and sometimes just keeping quiet and letting someone know that you’re there is more than enough.

If, or when, someone decides to pour their heart out to you, they’re not necessarily asking for advice or for you to personally find a solution. In fact, it may upset or frustrate them more if you constantly try to interrupt them by offering your own opinions.

It’s also likely that your friend or family member may not necessarily want to talk about their grief itself, but rather about the person they have just lost. Many people find a great deal of healing and catharsis in this process and having someone to talk about their loved one can help them to keep their memory alive. Unless it makes you personally uncomfortable, try not to change the subject and give your friend or family member the time and space to talk about what makes them feel comfortable.

Cultivate Patience

Being patient is sometimes just as much about taking a step back as it is about being there as a shoulder to cry on. While some may be happy to talk and vent and share their experiences, others may go silent for a period of time as a way of coping with their grief. This may be because they simply need some space, or it could be for practical reasons, such as organising funeral arrangements and not having time to catch up with friends or family.

Even if a grieving person does not go silent and appears to be behaving the same as always, it’s still likely that they are in an unpredictable emotional state and it may not be uncommon for them to cry or get angry or ask for space seemingly at random. Grief can trigger us in various ways and part of the supporting process is learning to expect and adapt to these potential triggers.

Of course, if they exhibit behaviours that make you worry about their safety, it may be necessary to check in. But otherwise, sometimes the kindest thing you can do is be patient when and if a loved one is constantly cancelling plans or simply behaving out of character. It’s likely they are aware of it and also feel guilty, so being there when they can be present is going to make them feel supported and cared for.


Be Proactive

Being supportive of someone while they’re grieving does not necessarily always mean sitting around and waiting for them to come to you. While it is important to remember that people may need their space, there’s nothing wrong with checking in and making suggestions, so long as you are not behaving in a forceful manner.

For example, if you’re worried about any potential awkward interactions with your loved one, you can simply just ask the person what is it they need from you emotionally or if they would like you to keep them company. Let’s not forget that some people are not very gifted when it comes to knowing how to ask for help, so sometimes it is up to us to make the first move and offer a helping hand rather than expecting them to come to us.

Similarly, it is easy to assume that a grieving person wants to be treated differently in social situations, but that may not necessarily be the case. There is no harm in reaching out and inviting your loved one to social activities like you would under normal circumstances. If they do not feel up to it, they will certainly let you know, but it ensures that they still feel included and thought of, rather than written off as someone unworthy of conversation or fun simply because of their grief.

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Supporting someone through the grieving process can certainly be a balancing act sometimes. You don’t want to come off either too distant or too pushy, nor do you want to make your loved one’s grief any worse with the wrong behaviour. But essentially, supporting someone through grief is all about being respectful and being as in tune with their feelings as you can.

It is also important to remember that grief is not always a short term experience and for many people, their main source of anxiety is the expectation to return to “normal” after a certain period of time. Being the support loved one means understanding that everyone’s grieving period is different and that in some sort of way, it will always be there, even after the immediate hurt has lessened. Understanding and accepting that fact is the essence of what it means to support someone through their grief, regardless of whether you make mistakes along the way.

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Carol Lawrence works with Harold Wood Funeral Services, friendly and welcoming funeral directors in Essex. She regularly writes on topics of grief, as well as both the practical and emotional side of funeral planning.

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