If you are supporting a family member or friend who is grieving a loss, you may feel uncomfortable, confused, and, above all, helpless.
If this describes your experience, you’re not alone.
How to cope with loss and support someone who is grieving a loss aren’t skills taught in school, which can leave you at a loss (pun intended!) for how to help.
The grief reaction, even though it’s completely normal, often makes people feel very uncomfortable. This makes sense because it’s hard to see someone you care about suffering. You want to alleviate, or at least mitigate, their pain, but the truth is you can’t. Grief is an experience a person has to go through in their own way, in their own time.
However, you can walk alongside your loved one on their journey.
Here are five ways you can provide support.
Don’t make assumptions.
Perhaps you’ve grieved a loss in the past, and how your loved one is grieving looks entirely different from that. As a result, you are concerned that they aren’t grieving the “right” way.
The truth is that there is no single way to grieve a loss, which means that coping looks different person-to-person.
For this reason, try to resist the urge to make assumptions about what your loved one might need to cope. Even though it might be what you needed when you were grieving, it might not be what they need to move through their grief.
Normalize their experience.
The power of normalizing a person’s experience is often highly underrated.
Normalizing means letting your loved one know that they aren’t doing anything wrong simply because they feel profoundly sad, confused, angry, et cetera.
What does this look like? It means saying things like…
It makes sense that you’re sad/angry/confused.
You’ll get through this.
There’s nothing wrong with you because you’re angry/confused/sad.
You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.
You’re not alone in feeling this way.
Grieving is normal.
Ask how you can help.
You might not know how to help your grieving loved one. That’s to be expected, not only because there’s no script for it but also because there’s no one-size-fits-all method to provide support.
Many people shy away from offering to help a grieving loved one, not because they don’t want to help but because they don’t know what to do or say. Or, they’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.
That’s why simply asking how you can help and letting your loved one tell you exactly what they need or don’t need can relieve some of that pressure.
Respect their wishes.
You may or may not approve of or understand your loved one’s way of coping.
For example, when you were grieving, you may have wanted to talk about the loss with someone you trusted. But now, your loved one wants alone time. Even though it might not make sense to you, a bit of space might be just what they need to navigate the process.
Unless your loved one is engaging in harmful behavior, it’s vitally important to the grieving process that you honor their intuition about what they need to move forward.
In the wake of loss, it’s very common for self-care practices, like exercise and participation in enjoyable activities, to be neglected.
If you feel it’s appropriate, gently encourage your loved one to continue practicing self-care, even if it’s less than before the loss.
You may even offer to join in your loved one’s self-care practice, like going on a walk together. Even if you walk in silence, having someone to facilitate the continued practice of self-care is extremely beneficial and may increase your loved one’s ability to cope with and move through the pain of the loss.
We know that grieving is a process, and how you and your loved one cope during this process will determine how you both evolve through it. Counseling can help you and your loved one navigate this confusing time, develop skills, build resilience, and create meaning.
If you, or someone you know, are grieving a loss and would like professional support, please call (760) 942-8663, extension 7. I would love to speak with you and share in this journey of healing with you.