How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving
If you need to offer support to someone who is grieving but don’t know where to start, there are a few simple steps you can take: Listen. Be present. Don’t judge.
Listen: A lot can be learned from the children’s book, The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (it’s also a great book for teaching children about empathy and being supportive). Supporting someone who is grieving is challenging, and it can really pull at the emotions of the caregiver and can bring up very uncomfortable feelings or memories. This discomfort can pull on the caregiver’s desire to fix the problem and “make it go away.” Unfortunately, grief is a process, and it cannot be sped up. Try your best to listen to the bereaved. They may say the same things over and over again or say nothing at all – and that’s OK. Just listen to them. Listen to their words and their body language. Follow their lead to determine your actions. After all, it is their process, and you’re just along for the ride.
Be present: “Being there” for someone can take many forms. Some people need a loved one to hug and comfort them, while others want space. You can be present for someone, even if you are away from them. If a person wants space, be accessible, and check-in periodically, but don’t be smothering. Also, when in their presence, actually be present. Put your phone away. Put your issues away. Just be with them. It may feel uncomfortable to truly sit in sadness with your loved one, but at least when they’re down in the depths of their feelings, they are not alone because they have you.
Don’t judge: Everyone grieves differently, and being supportive of those grieving can be challenging. There is no right way to grieve, and just because you think you would do it one way does not mean that is how your loved one will grieve. Excessive displays of emotionality, absence of emotional displays, and everything in between are all acceptable. That does not mean you have to be an emotional punching bag, though you may choose to be more tolerant of some of the bereaved’s frustrating behaviors.
When You’re Faced with Heartache
If you’re in the midst of a season of grieving, offer yourself the same patience and kindness that you would extend to someone else. Know that some days will be harder than others and that that’s okay. Your best, no matter what it looks like - even if it means spending the day in bed watching mindless television - is enough.
Whether you’re supporting a loved one or simply trying to keep your own head above water, know that you don’t have to do it alone. Seek help from a therapist, friend, or support group. Whatever your role - either as the support system or the bereaved - check-in with yourself and take care of your mental health. Be sure to celebrate the little victories too. Whether you made your friend laugh or you got dressed and ran a quick errand, it’s worth a pat on the back!
Stay tuned for part two of this blog post when we dig deeper into what to say and not to say to someone dealing with grief and loss.
Reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, C.E.D.S. at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today!