Grief is something that affects all of us at some time in our lives. It is important to recognise that everyone is entitled to feel grief and that no-one’s grief is more (or less) important than someone else’s. Grief is equally valid.
But how do we help someone in their grief? Is there a protocol that can make sure we are helping when we offer our support? The last thing any of us would want to do is add to someone’s grief, and sadly, that can make us reluctant to help when we should.
So, yes there’s a simple protocol for helping someone in their grief:
- Don’t be afraid to reach out and offer your support
- Make sure the person knows you are there to listen but not to judge
- Be aware that all of us grieve in different ways and for differing lengths of time
- Offer practical as well as emotional support
- Maintain support for a period of time
What Should I Say?
You may know exactly what to say because of the relationship you have with the grieving person or you may not. We think it can be useful to:
- Acknowledge what has happened – confirm that someone they care for has passed away
- Show genuine concern – tell them that you feel their pain
- Communicate from the heart – it’s OK to tell the person that you don’t know what to say but that you are there for them
- Offer support – don’t be specific, ask the person what they need from you and ask if they want to talk before moving forward
- Ask how they feel on a regular basis – grief is a process that rarely takes place over night
Listening to The Person
It’s important that we listen to the grieving person when they talk to us:
- Accept and acknowledge their feelings – they are their feelings and they are real and you don’t need to try and negotiate on these or change their mind
- Don’t feel pressured to talk – your silence can help the grieving person feel able to talk
- Do offer physical reassurance – a squeeze of the hand or a hug can be really helpful but make sure that it’s what the person needs too
- Offer support but don’t minimize their loss – try to listen and understand how they feel rather than telling them “you know what they’re going through”.
- Remember… all grief is unique.
In the long term, it’s also good to offer practical support such as helping the person complete tasks they don’t feel up to and to provide ongoing support.
It is common for us to go back to our regular routines after the first few weeks of someone passing. But for the family the grief is only just beginning. Some practical tips:
- Pop around and take them out for a coffee and a walk
- Invite them over for a meal once a month to ‘check in’ with them
- Call or send them a text on the ‘first’ of everything to let them know that you’re thinking about them e.g. first Easter, Christmas, birthday, school holidays etc that they are spending without their loved one
It may sound complicated but it doesn’t have to be. Supporting someone in grief is a matter of compassion.
Of course, it can also help the grieving person to be part of a celebration of the person that passed away. That’s where we come in.