Grieving the loss of a close friend, relative, or pet is overwhelming and painful. Whether the cause is a lengthy illness, a car accident, a sudden heart attack, or old age, you can help ease the sadness and pain, find or offer comfort, and commemorate a loved one.
Here are some ways to help comfort and support someone who is grieving.
Grieving is a Gradual Process
It’s difficult to know how to console and comfort a relative, co-worker, or friend who is grieving. Even though it seems like nothing you do or say helps — don’t give up. More than likely, you probably can’t take the pain away, but your being there is more important than it seems.
Accept that you cannot fix or repair the circumstances or make your grieving relative or friend feel better. Instead, just be there — offer a positive outlook and hope toward the future. Know that grief is a gradual process.
Ways of Offering Comfort and Support
At times, it’s difficult to know what to say to a bereaved person. Small gestures, like sending flowers or a card, helping with shopping or laundry, or making a regular date to listen and offering support can be a huge source of comfort to a person who is grieving.
According to Harvard University Medical School, if you find yourself uncertain of what to do in the face of someone’s loss, the following are some ideas to help you.
- Listen well instead of advising. — A sympathetic ear is a wonderful thing. It’s even better when a friend listens — even when the grieving person tells the same story with only a slight variation. Often, people work through trauma and grief by telling their story over and over. Don’t be quick to offer advice unless you’re asked for it. Frequently, those who are grieving really wish others would just listen. It’s your understanding — not your advice — that’s most sorely needed.
- Don’t ask, “How are you?” — The answer is unmistakably obvious — “not good.” And because it’s the same greeting you would offer anyone, unfortunately it doesn’t acknowledge that your friend has suffered a devastating loss. Instead, try, “How are you feeling today?”
- Name names — Don’t be afraid to mention the deceased. It won’t make your friend any sadder, although it may prompt tears. It’s terrible to feel that someone you love must forever be erased from conversation and memory. Saying how much you’ll miss the person is much better than the automatic, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
- Offer hope. — People who have gone through grieving often remember that it’s the person who offered reassuring hope — the faith and belief that things will get better — making the gradual passage from pain to a renewed sense of life. However, be careful about being too persuasive. Doing so may make the bereaved person feel even more isolated. Rather, say something like — “You will grieve for as long as you need to, but you are a strong person, and will find your way through this.” This remark both acknowledges that there’s no easy and fast solution. Additionally, it also affirms your confidence that things will improve for your grieving friend, co-worker, or relative.
- Reach out. — Call to express your sympathy. Try to avoid such phrases as “It’s God’s will” or “It’s for the best” unless the bereaved person says this first. Your friend or relative may need you even more after the first few weeks and months, when other people may stop calling. Check in every now and then just to say hello. Most bereaved people find it difficult to reach out and need others to take the initiative.
- Help out. — Don’t just simply ask if you can “do anything.” That comment shifts the burden to the bereaved, and she or he may be reluctant to make a request. Instead, be specific when offering help. Answer the phone, bring dinner over, or pass on information about funeral arrangements. Pitch in to clean up the kitchen. Sometimes your help is most valuable later.
- Assist with meals. — Provide help with cooking, and volunteer to help with shopping. For many bereaved persons — particularly widowers and widows — it can be a huge adjustment to get accustomed to shopping for groceries, planning meals, and cooking for just one person.
- Avoid judgments. — Your friend, relative, or co-worker’s life and emotional landscape have changed enormously — possibly forever. You may wish he or she would move on, but you can’t speed the grieving process. Let your friend heal at the pace that feels right and in his or her own manner. “You should cry” or “It’s time to move on” is not helpful advice.
Coping With Grief during the Holiday Seasons
The holiday seasons serves to remind us of wonderful times and togetherness with our loved ones. Watching others feeling thankful and celebrating may be overwhelming and painful for a grieving person — causing them to feel sad and lonely.
In many ways, the holidays force us to realize how much our lives have been changed by the loss of our loved one. Above all, in the first year, many bereaved are left with having to develop new holiday traditions and rituals.
The first step in coping with grief at the holidays is to acknowledge that the first holiday season is difficult — then to prepare for it in advance by making specific plans and offering the support that the grieving person needs.
The most important thing to remember is there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one. And the best way to cope with that first holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others and take it easy.
It’s important to be open and flexible to a person’s way of grieving.