Someone you care about just lost someone (or something) very important to them, and you feel helpless. You see this person suffering and you wish so badly that you could take away their pain. Maybe you freeze up at a loss for words, or maybe you stammer out something that feels awkward or forced. Grief is complicated. Educating yourself about how to best be there for your loved one will help you feel more empowered as a caregiver and it will in turn help the person grieving feel comforted and understood. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Talk less and listen more.
Often when we’re nervous, we tend to ramble. The more you talk, the less opportunities you allow for the person grieving to work through their grief. Tell your loved one that you are here. You are listening. If they want to be silent, be comfortable with silence. Your quiet presence shows the person that you will be there when they are ready to talk.
2. Remember that in order for the person to work through their grief, they have to feel their grief.
Thus, it is not your job to “cheer them up”. Someone who is grieving will find solace in those that are not afraid of their painful emotions. So, instead of trying to help your friend get rid of their pain, become comfortable with allowing them to sit with their pain, and be there for them while they do.
3. Remember that everyone grieves differently.
Avoid giving “advice” to the person grieving, as doing so inherently suggests that the way they are currently grieving is wrong and should be adjusted. You may believe that the person would benefit from getting out of the house more, and you may be right, but suggesting so might only make the person grieving feel guilty or pressured. Remember that grief is very personal, and allow the person to grieve in their own way.
4. Stick to saying things that are objective and true.
While you may believe that the person your loved one lost is “in a better place”, or that it was “their time”, these promises might feel minimizing to someone who is grieving. So, stick to things that are definitely true. “I am so sorry for your loss”, “I’m here for you”, and “I’m listening” are all objectively true statements that communicate to your loved one that they can count on you.
5. Make offers to help instead of leaving it up to them to ask.
It’s common to say “Let me know what you need!” to someone who is going through a hard time. This shows that you are willing to help, but the person will rarely actually ask for help. Make concrete offers and follow through on them. For example, tell the person you will bring them food, come shovel their driveway, or take out their trash at a specific time on a specific day. If they ask you not to, respect that, too. Remember, this is about the person who is grieving.
6. Know the signs of depression.
Grief and depression can look very similar, but they are inherently different, and they are treated differently by therapists. See “The blurred line between grief and depression” for more information, and talk to your friend about seeking help if you think they might be depressed.
7. Recommend getting help.
Perhaps your loved one has already considered going to therapy to help them through their grief. Hearing from someone they care about that grief counseling is effective and helpful may be that extra push they need to make an appointment. Great Lakes Psychology Group offers grief counseling at all of our convenient locations in the Metro Detroit area.