Have you ever struggled to support a grieving friend? Perhaps they are a grieving spouse or sibling, or perhaps you are supporting a grieving friend long distance.
Pain and loss are part of the human condition, and grief is the common thread that binds us all. When someone, or something, we love is taken from us, we feel the pain of loss, and grief is the whole-body response to that loss. It is not simply an emotion, as many people believe.
At any given moment, there will be someone in your life who is struggling with loss. It is a part of life, and it does not discriminate. Whatever your race, culture, background, gender, sexual orientation, education or level of income, you will face adversity in the form of loss at some point in your life.
Why, then, is our society so ill-equipped to support people in grief?
The truth is, grief is not well understood.
Grief is often ugly and painful to witness; it is an unwelcome guest at any gathering. When a friend or acquaintance is visibly suffering, our instinctive “solution” is to try and stop these feelings so that they can be happy again, so that they can feel better. Their obvious suffering makes everyone around them feel on edge, and there are social expectations felt by everyone involved.
Social norms include phrases such as:
“My condolences on your loss”
“I’m sorry for your loss”
“At least they’re in a better place”
“At least they didn’t suffer”
None of these expressions makes the grieving person feel heard or supported. Their main job seems to be to make the well-meaning friend feel better! The words “at least” have no place here. What they do is actually invalidate the pain of the grieving person. If you don’t know what to say, I recommend you say exactly that. Let your friend know that you are here to support them, but try to avoid platitudes and attempts to “bright-side” the situation. They need to feel heard and have their pain validated. Period.
My 10 Best Tips to Support a Grieving Friend Are:
- Be present with your grieving friend.
- Refrain from using platitudes (eg. “At least…”)
- If you don’t know what to say, you can say exactly that.
- Refrain from asking questions which they are too exhausted to answer.
- Offer practical support such as driving, meals, child-care, or dog-walking.
- Acknowledge & validate their pain.
- Be available as much as possible, and check in with them regularly.
- Don’t judge or have expectations about how they should be behaving or feeling.
- Accept that grieving is a process, and that everyone’s process looks different.
- Let them know they can count on your support now AND later.
Since every person grieves differently, they may want and need different types of grief support. Some people benefit from sharing in a grief support group, some people may have the opportunity to join a hospice support group, and others may prefer individual grief counselling. Whatever the case, every person needs to feel heard.
The next time you are trying to support a grieving friend, remember three basic guidelines: Be present, be practical, and follow their lead.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please schedule a free appointment with Julie.