Grief and loss are not given much attention or respect in our culture – we’re often given three bereavement days, and then expected to go back to work. In contrast, on one South Pacific island they really "get" the grieving process. For one year after the loss, the mourner does not have to work, and the entire community provides food and helps to take care of the children.
Unfortunately, here in the United States, and especially on our hectic Long Island, we aren’t given a year. In fact, we are supposed to bury that grief, and quickly. Our culture does not invite sharing about pain, and so we bottle up our feelings. When we have had a recent loss, or know someone who has, this lack becomes even more apparent.
For those of us looking to help a friend, spouse, or relative who has recently had a loss, it can seem very daunting to even start a conversation about how the mourner is feeling. The grief seems too large and too hard, and we flounder for the right words. But for many people who are grieving, they simply want to be able to speak of the deceased. They want someone else to remember the other person as they do and allow for cherished memories.
So How Can We Best Help Someone Who Is Grieving?
Often, when people are uncomfortable with grieving, they avoid the mourner because they don’t know what to say or what do to. But instead, we need to own that responsibility. Try starting with “Would it be okay if I called you tomorrow?”
Also, You Can Ask The Person If They Know What They Need
Often people who are grieving don’t know what they need. Some ideas to start are: “I’d like to support you. What would feel supportive?” And if the person doesn’t know what they need, then we can ask “Would you like a hug? Would you find that helpful? Would you like to take a walk?”
Never Insist That You Know What The Other Person Needs
Statements like: “You need to get out. You need to go out to dinner. You need to get rid of these clothes” are not helpful. The mourner feels ultimately powerless; they have no power of changing the death of this person. When presented with “you need” or “you should” statements it is even more disempowering.
Encouragement, of course, is different than telling a person what to do. “I noticed you haven’t eaten anything today. Would you like some food?” are some examples of encouraging questions. Use questions, not demands or statements. They are not a child, they are a grieving adult.
Validation In What They Are Feeling
Let the person know that they are totally valid in feeling sadness or anger. It is not necessary to try to explain away or even give reasons for the loss. A person who is mourning, for instance, may not need or want to hear that the deceased is “in a better place”. It’s almost like pouring salt on an open wound for someone in the grieving process. Instead, honor the person by validating their feelings.
Honor The Mindset Of Where They Are Right Now
People around the grieving person need to honor where they are. If the mourner is not ready to go back to work, then encourage them to take some time off. If they need to stay in bed a couple of days, no problem. As long as it’s not anything that is self-destructive, then honor that. There is no need to push or pressure someone to do something they are not ready for.
Everyone must go through things at their own pace. If you are helping someone else through the grieving process, don’t suggest to them when they should let go of something.
Some people would prefer to leave everything in place for two years – and that’s perfectly okay if that’s what they need. Even pictures can be tough; for some people it makes them feel better to keep them around, for others it doesn’t.
In the end, most people only want others to understand that they are in pain. It’s helpful if there is someone that they can talk to about what they are experiencing and memories of their loved one.
Getting Professional Help Can Help Deliver Unexpected Benefits
If you feel that the grieving individual is struggling to get through the day even after a few weeks, it may help for them to find a trusted therapist. Sometimes people come into therapy as an outlet for their memories and experiences. Therapy can help to hold that space, allowing for a sharing of memories and feelings.
People also seek therapy because it’s so hard to go through the process, even with support, and even if they are sharing the loss with others (like a sibling). Those who are grieving sometimes don’t want to worry about the other person’s feelings as they let go of their own emotions.
If you or a loved one have experienced a loss recently, and you are struggling, please reach out to someone who can help you through that process. Nassau Guidance’s bereavement specialists allow for whatever may come up, and our compassion and empathy is extended to you today and always.