When a loved one passes away, you can repeatedly experience sadness over that loss – often years later. Grief may resurface on the anniversary of your loved one's passing or on other significant occasions throughout the year.
Watching a loved one grieve is an overwhelming, helpless feeling. It is one of the most challenging tasks that many of us encounter. The ability to cope with the death of a close friend or family member is never easy and varies between people and the support group around them.
There are several ways to support your loved ones during the grieving process.
Rebecca Ready, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor in psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She writes in Psychology Today that death is the ultimate negative event. She says it is dreaded and conjures feelings of fear, distress, helplessness, hopelessness, and sadness.
While death is an inevitable part of life, and with death comes grief. Grief swallows the mourner up in a vast pit of despair, leaving a hollow, desperate ache behind. Watching a loved one grieve is an overwhelming, helpless feeling, even if you have also experienced loss. A shared experience doesn't equip you to help them through their grief, which is why we've prepared this list of ways to support loved ones during the grieving process.
British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once said:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
Grief and fear, and even despair is inter-connected. Grief is a normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind, especially the death of a loved one. Grief can affect how we interact with others, whether with friends, family, or work.
Don't simply offer them platitudes of well wishes or say, "if you need anything." Find your own way to express your love for them. Whether baking them a casserole or hugging them, don't wait for them to ask for your help. Just do the kind thing.
Also, take time to engage with them. Many grieving people feel alienated from their loved ones and the world. Death is an uncomfortable subject, causing many people to avoid mourners. While this is not intentionally malicious, it can be incredibly harmful to those lost in their grief. Interact with your loved one as normally as possible.
A person grieving might benefit much from even little actions when you reach out. Simple things such as sending a card or flowers, bringing them a meal, doing their laundry or shopping for them, or simply setting up a regular meeting to listen and offer support can be beneficial.
If they choose to open up to you, listen. Don't try to put a positive spin on things or say it could be worse. And no matter how well-intentioned, don't try to compare your loss to theirs.
What you should do is listen. Look at the person in their eyes; even if they look away, keep your eyes in place so they find them when they return to you. Use silence. Allow them to pause with your interruption. They will continue, and you should listen.
Allow them to be sad. Allow them to be angry. Acknowledge how bad the situation is, and sit with them in that place, even though it may be uncomfortable for you. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all.
People who experience loss often describe overwhelming support immediately after the loss, then less and less support as time goes on. Friends return to their regular lives and leave the mourners to pick up the pieces alone. Don't be that person.
Grief is a long and challenging process. Your loved one will still need support months and even years later. Think of it like a spiral staircase: though the grieving person is progressing, it may feel that they are moving in circles.
As an outsider to their grief, you can remind them exactly how much progress they have made. Encourage them to give themselves time and space to heal. And keep in mind: anniversaries are tough.
Don’t ‘Fix’ Someone in Grief
Remember that grief is not a problem to be fixed. Your compassionate presence and support are all your bereaved friend needs. Don't attempt to change their emotions, they can start to see themselves as the issue, making them less comfortable confiding in you and speaking honestly about their emotions. Keep in mind that only time, support, and compassion can heal grief.
We hope this list of ways to support your loved ones during the grieving process gave you some insight. Mourning is a complex process, but the support of a friend is invaluable.
About the Author
Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.
Contributor since September 25th, 2020
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