Losing a loved one is a devastating experience and something we would never wish on our best friend or our worst enemy. Unfortunately, loss is an inevitable part of life and something we will all deal with at one time or another. While loss is a common life experience, the healing process is unique to each individual and helping someone through this rough time is certainly not a one-size-fits-all experience.
Most of us want to help someone who is grieving but we may not always know the best way to go about it. While the approach will vary based on the individual and the circumstance, there are some basic dos and don’ts which can help you navigate this slippery slope. If you’re helping a friend or loved one deal with loss, follow these suggestions from psychologists, caregivers and grief counselors around the web.
Don’t Rush the Process
By now, we’ve all heard of the Five Stages of Grief, but guess what, there’s no designated time table for how quickly or slowly a person moves through the process. Let your friend or family member feel their feelings and don’t expect them to just be “over it” because a certain amount of time has passed. “Don’t rush grieving (this can be an intensely personal process),” says Rick Lauber author of “The Successful Caregiver’s Guide” “Provide a sympathetic ear and listen. Be patient (people may not be immediately open to talk and share openly). Touch base and follow-up often, especially around the holidays in the first year following a loved one’s death.”
If you’ve experienced loss, you may remember how long it took you to feel better. Don’t use this as a benchmark for someone else.
Do Encourage Your Friend to Take Action
While you never want to rush a friend through his or her grieving process, you do want to help him or her to take positive actions to heal. Many people choose to isolate after a loss, but in some cases, they can benefit from therapy or a support group.
This gives them an opportunity to connect with other people so they can realize they’re not alone. While it can be helpful to encourage your friend to try therapy or a support group, don’t simply tell them what to do. Take a gentle approach, and remember, he or she may not be ready for this type of action.
Do Be of Service to Your Friend
This can mean a lot of different things depending on your friend and his or her personality and needs. In some cases, you can best serve your friend by simply being there. “Be there for your friend, even if you don’t have anything to say,” says Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, a clinical pyschotherapist and founder of Nashville Concierge Counseling. “The act of just sitting with your friend (holding space) and letting them know that you are there for them is very therapeutic.”
In other cases, you can do small things for your friend that will make a big difference, like cleaning up or preparing food. “ Show acts of love,” advises Rachel Rabinor, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker. “Bring them food, do the laundry, watch the kids. The act of giving shows that you’re thinking about them. If you’re far away– send flowers, a card, a meal if you can.”
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple act of kindness during this hard time. While science shows humans are wired for kindness, our capacity grows with practice and there’s no better time to practice kindness towards a friend than when he or she is grieving.
Don’t Use Cliche Sayings About Loss
“I know how you feel,” “everything happens for a reason,” “he/she is in a better place;” even if these statements are true, they will provide very little solace to your friend and in some cases they may even make him or her more upset. “Don’t tell someone you know how they feel,” says life coach Sherri Ziff. “Even if you’ve gone through loss or lost the similar person in your life, don’t assume you know how they feel. Say, ‘I can’t imagine how you feel.’ Give them the space to express themselves – if they want to. Also, give them space to not talk – just be there.”
While we may mean well when we make these statements, they often aren’t helpful. If you’re not sure what to say, remember, sometimes your friend just needs someone to listen.
Do Validate Their Feelings
Let your friend know he is entitled to his feelings and make sure he understand he’s not weak or crazy for feeling immense sadness. Also, however, be aware that your friend may need professional support that you are not able to provide. “Validate them, sadness is normal,” says Lynn Zakeri LCSW. “Disrupted sleep, feeling out of sorts, disconnected, all of these are natural and expected. When it starts impacting your day-to-day functioning for days in a row, seeking professional help or guidance and advice and more support is a good idea.”
Do Understand Your Limitations
When someone we care about is hurting we want to take action, we want to fix things and take their pain away. You can’t change this situation and you can’t take away your friend’s sadness. Understand that and know that you can help in other ways. “The one thing we think we need to do with someone who grieves is to somehow fix things…help them feel better…take their pain away,” says Ginny McKinney a public speaker who used her blog to share her own loss and help others. “You can’t, nothing you can say or do will fix this. You can, however, tell them your heart is with them. Let them know you are willing to sit with them and their pain.”
Don’t Avoid Your Friend
You may not know what to say or do or you may be uncomfortable in the situation, but don’t avoid your friend in his or her time of need. “Do not ignore the situation,” says Dr. John DeGarmo, a leading expert in parenting and foster care, and director of The Foster Care Institute. “They need to hear from you that you are there for them. That you will help them. That you will listen to them. Give them time to grieve and express their loss.”
Also, don’t assume your friend doesn’t want to hear from you.” says Virginia L’Bassi, a certified Catalyst life coach with SHFT. “Even when she doesn’t answer your call or respond to your text or email, your friend appreciates your support,” She may be too overwhelmed to talk or write, and yet she values every effort you make.”
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, but your friend will appreciate your help and support. Follow these guidelines, try your best, and be patient.
What tips do you have to help someone who is grieving? Share them with us in the comments below.