Death, and the grief that follows the death of a loved one, makes many people in our culture uncomfortable. It’s something that parents often try to shield children from, and that many people feel pressured to hide. Yet pretending grief doesn’t exist isn’t the healthiest way to start the road to recovery—and it’s not helpful for those grieving a major loss if people in their lives shy away from the topic of grief or, even worse, avoid them entirely during times of deep sadness.
Yet it’s also often hard for people who haven’t experienced the death of a loved one to know how to support a friend or family member either immediately after the death of a loved one or in the months and years following a major loss. Here are five ways to show your support for a friend or family member struggling with grief.
Show Up and Check In
It’s not always easy to know the right balance between giving someone his or her space and making yourself available, but most grievers wish their friends and family were around more, not less. In the days and weeks immediately following a loss, offering to bring dinner or come by to do chores is often the best way to provide both emotional and practical support. In general, it’s better to make a concrete offer—such as “Can I bring dinner on Thursday?” rather than asking what you can do, or telling the grieving person to reach out if they need something.
Be Around Long Term
One common complaint from people who’ve experienced a major loss is that everyone else goes back to their normal life after a week or two. In fact, it’s common for there to be an outpouring of support for families and individuals who’ve had a major loss, but it often fades away quickly. If you want to truly support a friend or family member after a loss, don’t stop offering to bring dinner or mow the lawn as soon as the funeral is over—your friend needs this kind of support for months, not days, after a loss.
Get Comfortable Talking about the Loss
Not all grievers want to talk about the person who died, but many do and feel frustrated when people in their life don’t want to say his or her name or pretend like the person didn’t exist. Check in with your friend or family member about whether or not they want to talk about his or her deceased love one, and be ready to both listen and participate in a conversation about the deceased person, especially if you knew him or her.
Don’t Try to “Fix” Grief
Many of the most hurtful comments made to grievers are those from people who are trying to minimize or “fix” their grief. These mights be comments like “you can get married again” or “you didn’t really have a great relationship with your brother anyway.” Grief is personal, and it’s not something that can be “fixed,” by comments like these. Your friend or family member is aware that he or she could remarry, or that his or her sibling relationship wasn’t the best—but those facts don’t diminish his or her grief.
Be the Buffer
If it’s a close friend or family member who has experienced a loss, offer to help him or her manage other family members and friends. This can include organizing a visiting schedule and assigning tasks to other friends and family who want to help, or being a buffer between your grieving family member or friend and his or her co-workers, acquaintances and even family and friends who are having trouble respecting the grief process.
If you’ve experienced a loss and want an experienced guide to help you communicate your needs, professional counseling can help. I can help you find the best way to talk to your family and friends about how they can support you as you grieve and rebuild your life.