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Supporting a Griever

When you have a friend or family member who has lost a loved one, it is hard to know the right thing to say, or how to be helpful.

As a person supporting a griever, remember that there is no timeline for grief, and no official end to grief. Individuals who have lost a loved one “move forward with their grief” and do not “get over” it. The most important thing is to be sincere in your offers to help, and recognize that sometimes the best help can be just to listen. Here are some tips on how to be supportive:

Do not be afraid to talk to a grieving individual. Many individuals experiencing grief feel as though people avoid talking to them. Some people are afraid to discuss this sensitive topic, while others may be afraid of saying the wrong thing. While it is important not to say something upsetting, try not to be afraid of your family member or friend.

Listen without judgment. Grief can be extremely difficult, and grievers have feelings that are often very raw. Grief is a very personal experience, and there are many ways to grieve, and no right or wrong way. Do not judge the manner in which someone is coping or not coping. Do not minimize their emotions and experiences.

Be present. Be with them as they cry, express anger, or have other emotions related to their loss. Truly listen without offering advice. Be willing to allow their pain to exist. Offer validation for their feelings and experiences. Talk about the person that died by sharing happy memories and listening.

Do not ask for details about the death. The manner in which someone dies is none of your business and sometimes individuals who are grieving prefer to keep details private. Grieving individuals who want to talk about the manner of death will do so, but it is entirely up to them. Especially if the loss was by suicide, do not ask for details. 

Offer practical support. Between meals, groceries, yard work, and car pool, there is no end to the amount of things that could assist an individual or family that is grieving. Offering to help with a specific chore may be the easiest for a griever to accept. However, do not be offended if your request is turned down. There may be many other offers for help. 

Avoid colloquialisms. These statements, although they may seem well-meaning, are often very hurtful. The following phrases should be avoided:

  • It was for the best
  • They are in a better place
  • When it’s their time, it’s their time 
  • He/she brought this on themself
  • There is a reason for everything
  • You should not feel that way
  • You have to be strong for your family (children, spouse, etc)
  • I know how you feel
  • How are you doing?
  • When will you get over this
  • Just move on

Use language that is supportive and positive:

  • I am here if you want to talk
  • How are you doing today?  
  • How can I be supportive? Or better yet, offer something specific—like dropping off dinner or groceries, running errands, driving the carpool, etc.
  • I do not know how you feel, but I am here for you
  • Share a happy memory of their loved one, if you also knew them
  • I wish I had the right words, but please know that I care
  • Say nothing, but just be with the person

Be supportive in the long term. Because grief is a process, there will be many difficult days ahead.  Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and major milestones can all be very difficult for individuals who are grieving. Continue to share memories of the individuals who died, if you knew the person. Check in with grievers on special days or at times when you know that the griever is struggling. Continue to listen without judgment. 

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