When someone loses a loved one, it is probably one of the worst moments of their life. It could be a parent, a lifelong partner or even a child, and their sense of loss will be immense. The grieving process is very different for many people and often it’s hard to know how to help someone going through it. Many people are worried that they will say the wrong thing but it is better to be present in their life rather than avoid the situation altogether.
It is difficult to know what to say; the person who has lost someone will be dealing with a lot of emotions, anger, sadness, frustration and guilt, just being a few. They often feel lonely as they believe no one is going through the same thing as they are.
Supporting someone bereaved doesn’t mean you have all the answers, or you can fix the pain they are going through. Often they just need a shoulder to cry on or someone they can talk to; it’s your presence they need, just knowing someone is there for them is a huge help.
Here are a few tips on how to help someone who is grieving
Just be there for them
Let the person grieving know you are available but don’t try and interfere, they will let you know if they need you. Don’t push them into anything they may not be ready for. Offer to meet them for a coffee or ask if you can visit, just knowing people are around them will be a comfort.
Understand everyone grieves differently
There isn’t a correct way to grieve, and everyone has a different way of dealing with loss. There are many stages of loss from profound sadness to denial to anger, it is not one rule for all. Someone may feel great one day and then wake up the next day and feel at rock bottom again, and it can take a lot of time to return to some form of normality. Don’t get upset if you get pushed away there are so many emotions involved in grief.
Listen to someone grieving
One of the most important parts of the grieving process is being able to talk about feelings. Be there when the bereaved is ready to talk and just listen to what they have to say. They often don’t want answers but they need to offload. Sometimes they have very mixed emotions and feel embarrassed about talking about things. The person may wish to talk about how their loved one died, let them talk, telling the story is a way of accepting the death; it is a part of the healing process.
Give practical help and support
Instead of just saying “if you need anything just ask” be proactive – make them dinner, offer to help with the errands, do housework, take them on a walk; there are hundreds of ways to help.
After a person has died there is quite a bit of paperwork, especially if the bereaved is the executor of the estate. Support them while they are dealing with things at this already stressful time. They also may need your help with funeral planning.
Ask them how they feel but don’t be patronising
Sometimes people need a push to open up; loneliness often sets in after a loved one has died and things get bottled up. Let them know they can show their emotions, if they need to cry, shout, scream, then let them, don’t tell them how they should be feeling. They need to know they can open up without being judged.
Share experiences similar to theirs
Try not to sound like you know how that person is feeling. If you have had an experience of losing a loved one, you can share this with them it may give them comfort. It’s probably not best to share if it was the next-door neighbour’s dog that has passed away or an experience that isn’t really relevant.
If you don’t have any experiences to share, then you can try and put them in contact with someone who does, or they may benefit from contacting a support group.
Show them asking for help is normal
Quite often someone who has lost a loved one tries to deal with things on their own, they sometimes want to prove they can cope. This way of dealing with things can cause a major build-up of emotions and the loss never gets dealt with properly. The bereaved may benefit from talking to a councillor or professional as they may find they can open up in a way they cannot to people close to them. Please don’t see this as a negative, see it as a positive.
React to how they are feeling
This is a crucial one, you need to listen to what they want and react accordingly. Some people may wish to go back to places that remind them of their loved ones, and others may want the exact opposite. Also the bereaved and their loved one may have had special things they did together, but this doesn’t mean the person grieving intends to do them, it could cause more pain. Helping is about listening and reacting, not assuming what you think they may need.
After several months, people often go back to their daily lives and forget about the grieving person who may still need support. They may not want or need as much help as they did initially, but it is still good to check in with them. Sometimes it’s better in a subtle way, just asking them for a drink or invite them to join you in an activity rather than just a call to ask “How are you coping”. Anniversaries are a big part of the grieving process, be ready to give support when these times come around, it’s a bit like ripping off a plaster, all the pain comes back again, but underneath the healing has begun.
Keep an eye on your loved ones as sometimes grief can spiral into depression, if you have concerns, then talk to them about it.
There is no right or wrong way to help someone who is grieving, giving support, listening and reacting to how they are coping is the key. Don’t smother someone who is grieving or try to hurry them along to be okay; they need time to process ‘what has happened before they can move on.
For further information on grief support then there are some excellent NHS Guides.