When a loved one is in the midst of grief, we can feel helpless, and not know what to do, or say. Here are a few important things to remember:
- Just be there for them. You cannot take their grief away no matter how hard you try, so don’t try. They don’t need you to advise them, or distract them, or tell them that you know how they feel (because you don’t). They need you to simply sit with them, listen, hold their hand, and not be frightened by their pain.
- Be patient. The process of grief is long, and complex. It goes up, and down, and all around. It starts, and stops, and just when you think you’ve reached the end – you realize that you’ve only entered a new phase of the process. You cannot rush their process as much as you would like to. They need to go through each and every stage in order to come out on the other side.
- Be kind. Recognize that they are in a great deal of pain, though sometimes they may not show it. They need kindness, and gentleness from those around them.
- If they get stuck, pay attention. Think of grief as detached seaweed drifting along with the current. Every once in a while the seaweed gets stuck around a root, or a branch, and unable to continue freely. In the grief process, this often happens when we get stuck on unresolved feelings such as anger, regret, guilt, or fear. When you notice your loved one tangled up in these feelings suggest to them gently to get further support. If they are not ready, don’t push it. Give them some time, and try again later.
- Don’t fight them if they want to hold on to their grief. Sometimes when people are grieving they fear that if they release the pain they would somehow be betraying the person they lost, or worse, they would be letting go of the last trace of their loved one. It’s a part of their process – accept it.
- Don’t take it personally. Grief is a private process, and ultimately must be experienced privately. If they need to be alone, let them. If they don’t share with you, or let you in as much as you would like to be let in – let it go.
- If it’s a big deal to them, then it’s a big deal. We are creatures of meaning. We attach meaning to everything and everyone. Much of the pain we experience in grief is due to what the loss represents for us. For example, a loss of a relationship can mean losing our last chance at love, and a loss of a job can mean personal failure, or professional inadequacy. Try and remember that when comforting a friend who is crying over breaking up with a guy she never really liked in the first place.