How to Help When Someone You Care About is Grieving

 In Grief loss, Overcoming painful experiences

Today is Memorial Day, a national holiday established in 1971 to honor those in military service who sacrificed their lives to protect our nation and preserve our liberty. I invite you to join me in honoring those who have gone before us. If you have lost a loved-one who served in military duty I offer my condolences and gratitude.

For many, Memorial Day is also a time to remember other loved ones and friends who have died. Today I will think about my dad who died over 20 years ago, and a nephew who passed away a few short years ago. In my professional work, I reflect on the loss a few of my clients suffered this past year, some very tragic losses. Today I pray for them knowing that their grief is ever present.

Helping people through grief is something I do in my personal and professional life. I also go through grief too. I have found there are things that are helpful and approaches that are not when it comes to supporting others in grief. Here are some suggestions on what to do and avoid doing to help when someone you care about is grieving.

Grief-support Approaches to Avoid

Grief is an emotion that makes people feel uncomfortable. Often this leads people to want to do something to fix it or make it go away. Grief does not need to be fixed. It needs to be released. Your response to grief is critical to support. Here are some approaches to avoid.

  1. Making the conversation about your grief. Your role is to provide comfort and support. Talking about your grief shifts the focus from them to you. Hearing your story may only make them feel worse. There is a time and place to share your experience with grief. However, it comes much later in the conversation.
  2. Saying, “God allowed this for a purpose”. This may or may not be true. Either way, the grieving person is likely not in a frame of mind to hear it. The statement can have an opposite effect. The person in grief may become angry with God and less receptive to his comfort.
  3. Attempting to stop or silence the grief. Grief makes people feel uncomfortable. We don’t like to see people suffer. However, trying to stop someone from grieving does not help them get through it. Grief or sadness are real human emotions that need expression. Trying to stop grief doesn’t remove it. Instead, it causes the person to suppress it. Not good! Furthermore, they may associate feelings of grief as something bad or inappropriate. Understand this. Grief is normal, healthy, and appropriate.
  4. Statements that usually do not work. “Focus on the positive.” “Be thankful for what you have not what you don’t have.” “You need to get past this.” “Focus on those who need you now.” “You should be past this by now.” “Put this behind you and get on with your life.” “Think about others who have it worse than you and you will feel better.”

Grief-support Approaches that Help

If you want to help when someone you care about is grieving, you will have to develop a level of tolerance with grief. Remember, grief is a normal human response to loss. It needs to find a release point. Most people do not want to be alone. They want the love and support of others they trust. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to help when someone you care about is grieving.

  1. Begin with listening. A grieving person needs to let it out. They are not looking for solutions. Instead, they want support. Listening allows you into their pain so you can understand it. Don’t feel any pressure to say something.
  2. Validate their feelings. They may express anger, confusion, or guilt. This is a normal expression of grief. You can say something like, “I understand your anger and confusion. You’re right, it doesn’t make sense.” or “You feel guilty because you wish you could have done something to prevent this.”
  3. Show comfort. Based on the nature of the relationship and level of connection, you may want to hold or hug the grieving person. Words of comfort are also helpful. “I am sorry for your loss.” “I share in your sadness.” “I am with you in your time of grief.”
  4. Offer words of support. This part comes after you have listened, validated, and comforted the grieving person. Based on your own experiences of grief, you can offer words of support that provide hope. “The intense pain will go away, but not today.” 
  5. Do something practical. Running errands, bringing food, or helping with the kids are a few examples of how practical help can be a source support that is needed. The grieving person will remember this as a caring gesture long after the grief phase is over.
  6. If necessary, recommend professional support. For some, the pain of the loss is so great they cannot get through it on their own. Even the love and support of family and friends is not enough. In situations like this, you can help by encouraging the grieving person to seek professional support. This can come through pastoral care, grief support groups, or professional counseling.

Now it’s Your Turn

Do you have a loved-one or friend going through grief? If so, do you find it easy or difficult to support them? I trust this blog helps you know what to avoid and what works when someone you care about is grieving. Remember, it doesn’t take much to help. Nothing to fix. Just be present.

Think about someone who may need your support today. You have the approach. Now, take the next step and reach out.

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