What to do When Someone is Grieving
Everyone responds differently to the loss of a loved one and it can be difficult to know what to do or say to the bereaved. Sometimes, no matter what we say, it feels like the wrong thing. Other times, we feel completely useless, unable to provide any meaningful assistance to those experiencing loss. Whether it’s a close friend or a colleague, knowing how to express sympathy in a meaningful way is important, and even though saying nothing may seem easier, saying something is always better than saying nothing at all.
Choose Your Words Wisely
When we know someone is grieving, most of us are afraid we will say the wrong thing to them. This causes some people to say nothing for fear of making the situation worse. However, bereaved people need support, and even a few words can let them know that you care, and are there for them. The most important thing to remember when expressing sympathy is to acknowledge the situation and speak from the heart. Some simple rules to follow include:
- Don’t make it about you – saying things like “I know how you are feeling” are not helpful. Grief is an individual experience and belongs to the person going through it. No one but them can know how they are feeling. Instead, say something like “This must be so hard for you.”
- Do remind the person that you love them – if you are not close enough to the person to tell them you love them, say “I am here for you” or “you are in my thoughts”. Death can make people feel very alone so these simple words can make all the difference.
- Keep it simple – although “I’m sorry for your loss” may seem like a cliche,’ sometimes it’s enough to let the person know you care without overwhelming them or forcing them to talk when they don’t feel like it.
Acts are Important
When a person is grieving, it is often the small tasks of everyday life that become the hardest. Simple things like taking the rubbish out, washing the dishes, walking the dog or shopping for food, can seem overwhelming so they get neglected. This is where friends and family become important. Instead of asking “are you ok?” or “do you need anything”, make firm offers. For example, say “I’ll put the rubbish out on Thursday” or “I’ll take your dog out for a walk in the morning with mine”. Supporting your friend or relative in these small ways shows them you care and they are loved. It also gives them the space to grieve without their entire world falling apart.
Another important act is to be a gatekeeper of sorts. Sheltering your friend or relative from an influx of people wanting to express sympathy can help them from feeling overwhelmed. You’ll need to follow your friend or relative’s lead on this one because while some people like privacy, others prefer the distraction of being surrounded by people all the time. If you do act in this capacity, try and make it clear that you are the designated point of contact for well-wishers. Your job will be to act as educator, letting people know how your friend or relative is doing without giving away too much information.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do for the bereaved is be there. Whether you say something or do something, it’s the willingness to try and help in some small way that can make all the difference to those who are grieving.
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