Watching a family member or friend experiencing severe grief is like watching a swimmer struggling to remain above water.
We freeze up unsure if they are coping or if we should dive in for the rescue…
In these circumstances words usually fail us, leaving us stammering for the “right thing” to say.
Sometimes the fear that we will say or do the wrong thing grips us so tightly that we choose to do nothing at all.
Although doing nothing is certainly an option it’s one that most of us feel unsatisfied with and does little to help our loved one.
There is no “perfect” way to respond when it comes to grief…but there are in fact more helpful things you can say and do.
Here are 6 ground rules to guide your actions during those times when you’re unsure what to do.
#1 The griever owns the grief
Grief is a very personal experience and belongs solely to your friend or family member.
There is often a lot of “help” which in essence is telling grievers how they should be feeling and what they should be doing.
This idea that we somehow know better what a person should do is what fuels external control.
You might believe you’d handle things differently in the griever’s position. Instead of encouraging them to do what you think is right let them own their grief and make their own choices.
#2 Stick with the truth and in the here & now
It’s easy to make statements about the past or future when a griever’s life holds so much pain in the present.
We can’t possibly know whether life will get “better” for them ahead and it’s unfair to compare the “good times” of the past to the current pain they feel now.
Stay in the here and now with your loved one even when the present is painful.
We’ve all heard or maybe used the statements “they’re in a better place”, or “they’ve finished their work here”. Generalized statements like this are obviously aimed to comfort but don’t necessarily help.
What is needed from us is the truth: “This hurts. I love you. I’m here!”
#3 Don’t try and repair or fix the unfixable
A good guiding question to be asking yourself when you say or do something to support a loved one is:
“Am I trying to fix them?”
Your loved one’s loss cannot be solved or repaired.
It is a huge relief to have a supportive person in your life when you’re experiencing grief who does not try to take the pain away.
#4 It’s not about you
Someone in extreme emotional pain is not so easy to be around. You will likely feel ignored and unappreciated. Be prepared for your feelings to be hurt.
Our loved ones are at a time where we can’t expect them to give as much to our relationship.
Finding your own support through friends and family is crucial at this time. It will help you to have the patience and understanding you need to be there for them.
#5 Be a step ahead
Being a “step ahead” means trying your best to anticipate what they might need and plan on doing it.
Telling them to “call if you need something” won’t work because they more than likely won’t call.
Not because they don’t need something, but because the steps of:
- identifying a need
- figuring out who might help them to fulfill that need
- making the phone call to ask
is so far from where their energy level, capacity, or interest is.
Making concrete offers instead is a better option. Such as “I will be by each morning on my way to work to walk the dog” will be more reliable.
#6 The power of Love
Above all the other ground rules, show your love!
Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your loved one’s life, without flinching or turning away!!
Be willing to not have any answers.
Be a friend…
Be love…… Love is the thing that lasts!!