Five ways to support someone who is grieving
Show that you care
When your friend is grieving, you might find it helpful to try and put yourself in their shoes. That’s what empathy is all about. It allows you to expect what they may need, whether that’s a squeeze of their hand that says ‘tell me more about how you’re feeling right now’, or a phone call after a particularly tough day.
During this difficult time, they need you to reach out and show them that they’re not alone. You might not always know the right things to say, and sometimes you might get it wrong - but that’s OK. You’re only human, and your presence, warmth and understanding will help the person you love get through.
Get comfortable with stillness
Time moves in a strange way when you’re grieving. A year ago might seem like just yesterday, or like an entire lifetime has passed. And while the world keeps turning, and birthdays come and go, it can feel that life is permanently on hold.
Part of being Grief Kind is getting comfortable with stillness. You need to be able to sit with your friend and let them feel any emotion that may come to them. It might feel awkward at times, but you need to give them the time and space to grieve.
As humans, we don’t like staying still, and we’re naturally geared towards the future. But it’s important to remember that grief is natural too. Being still with grief will show your loved one that they don’t have to just ‘get over it’ quickly.
Instead of putting a timetable against how they’re feeling, you’ll be there for them every step of the way. I think that stillness is what’s meant when we talk about being ‘a rock’ during a difficult time.
Accept that you can’t fix things
When someone we love is in pain, the first thing we want to do is fix it, because we think that fixing it will make them feel better.
But when it comes to ‘fixing’ grief, I want you to think about a new-born baby. If you’ve ever held a crying baby, you’ll know that you don’t try to talk them out of crying. You hold them, you make eye contact, you’re there for them. The same thing applies to someone who’s grieving.
It might feel a bit uncomfortable, but welcoming your friend’s silence, tears or anger without trying to find a solution can be really helpful. In fact, it is its own form of kindness because it shows them that there’s no right or wrong way to feel when grieving. And if they can let these emotions move through them, eventually, they’ll be able to move forward.
Keep checking in
One of the trickiest things when supporting someone through grief is that, some days, they’ll seem like their old self again. They might laugh and joke, go out for dinner with you, or even start dating again.
When you think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Loss is so hard to face head on every single day. Sometimes, people just need to take a break from it. It means that the pain of grief can feel very far away some days, and others extremely close.
Being Grief Kind involves paying attention to these nuances. Just because your loved one seems fine, it doesn’t mean they don’t still need your support. In fact, our research shows that almost half (44%) of the general public felt their friends and family stopped asking how they were too early when they were grieving.
That’s why it’s important to keep checking in, even if your friend seemed like they were doing well the last time you saw them. There might be certain times of the year, such as anniversaries or important dates, that are very challenging, with lots of thoughts and feelings building up. In those moments, a simple ‘how are you doing today’ can mean everything.
Help your friend grow around grief
When someone first dies, grief feels huge and present in every part of life. As time moves forward, you might think that grief will shrink… not disappear entirely, but become small enough to manage.
What happens instead is quite different. Grief doesn’t shrink, but life grows around it. It’s a bit like when you break an egg into a frying pan. The egg yolk stays the same size, but the white expands around it and takes on different shapes.
This is just like life after someone has died. Grief stays as it is and people’s paths, choices and views of the world all adapt around it. There are good and bad days, but more and more, people can live their life in that larger circle around their grief.
For more information about the author or the Suy Ryder organization, visit https://www.sueryder.org/blog/five-ways-support-someone-grieving