Danielle Bertini

Grief can be a tricky subject to deal with, especially when you are on the other end of it. There can be many intense and painful emotions attached to grief, such as depression, anger, guilt, and deep sadness, and it can be difficult to know what to say or do. You may be afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing, or making your loved one feel worse at such a difficult time. Or maybe you think there’s little you can do to make things better. That’s understandable. But don’t let discomfort prevent you from reaching out to someone who is grieving. It is important to understand that you don’t need to have all the right answers or give advice, but rather simply being there for them with support. Smith, Robinson, and Segal (2019) offer some tips to help someone who is grieving.

1. Understand the grieving process. The better your understanding of grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you will be to help a grieving friend or family member.

  • There is not right or wrong way to grieve. Grieve does not always follow an orderly, predictable path. Rather, it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster, with highs, lows, and setbacks. With this in mind, avoid telling your loved one what they “should” be feeling or doing.
  • Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviors. As mentioned earlier, grief can come with intense feelings of guilt, anger, fear, and sadness. They might lash out at you or cry for hours on end. Reassure them that what they feel is normal and avoid judgment.
  • There is not set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months. However, for others, the grieving process can be longer or shorter. Try not to push your loved one to speed up or slow down their grieving process, as it can be different for everyone.

2. Know what to say to someone who’s grieving. Although many people can get wrapped up about having the right thing to say to someone, it’s actually more important to simply listen. Avoiding the person who is grieving because you don’t know what to say causes you to miss out on being a huge source of comfort and healing for them. Here are some ways how you can talk, and listen, to someone who’s grieving.

  • Acknowledge the situation. For example, you could say something as simple as: “I heard that your father died.” By using the word “died” you’ll show that you’re more open to talk about how the grieving person really feels.
  • Express your concern. “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
  • Ask how your loved one feels. Emotions, especially during bereavement, can change rapidly, so don’t assume you know how they feel at any given time.
  • Be genuine in your communication. Don’t try to minimize their loss, provide simplistic solutions, or offer unsolicited advice. It’s far better to just listen to your loved one or simply admit: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
  • Offer your support. Ask what you can do to help them, whether that is just listening, or helping them with a specific task.

3. Offer practical assistance. For some going through this time, it can be difficult for them to ask for help for fear of burdening others or simply being too depressed to reach out. With this in mind, sometimes it is more helpful to make specific suggestions, such as, “I’m going to the market this afternoon. What can I bring you from there?” rather than, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Some other suggestions include:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands.
  • Help with funeral arrangements.
  • Help with insurance forms or bills.
  • Take care of housework, such as cleaning or laundry.
  • Drive your loved where they need to go.
  • Help with childcare.
  • Share an enjoyable activity (sport, game, puzzle).

4. Provide ongoing support. Grief can continue even long after the funeral is over and the cards have stopped. Support might be needed for months or even years.

  • Continue your support over the long haul. Stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in. After the initial shock of the loss has worn off, your support can be more valuable than ever.
  • Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearances. They might look fine on the outside, but still suffering on the inside. So, try to avoid saying things like “You look so well.”
  • Offer extra support on special days. Certain times of the year may be harder than others, such as holidays or birthdays. Be sensitive to these occasions and let them know you are there for them.

5. Watch for warning signs of depression. It’s common for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused, and disconnected from others. However, if their symptoms don’t start to gradually fade or if they get worse with time, this might be a sign of a more serious problem, such as clinical depression. If you notice this, encourage them to seek professional help. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Difficulty functioning in daily life
  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Excessive bitterness, anger, or guilt
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Inability to enjoy life
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Constant feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about dying or suicide

References

Smith, M., Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2019, September). Helping Someone Who’s Grieving. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/helping-someone-who- is-grieving.htm.