Grief isn’t a sexy subject. People tend to avoid it because the thought of loss makes them uncomfortable, but everyone will get to know grief at some point. We might know it differently, some more intimately than others, but each of us will eventually get our turn to tango with grief. The problem is, nobody knows what to do with it. The griever is often confused and overwhelmed by their grief because few people discuss what it actually feels like. They have no energy to articulate their needs because it turns out that grief is all-consuming. Family + friends are at a loss for what to say or do, so they often don’t say or do anything, leaving the griever feeling even more isolated + alone. It’s a never-ending cycle where nobody wins. We need to do better!
So if you know someone who is grieving, here are a few ways you can help:
Acknowledge the loss.
If it’s your first time seeing the person after their loss — acknowledge it. I promise they have’t forgotten about it and you bringing it up is not going to suddenly make them remember. If you don’t see them regularly, call, text, or write them a letter. They’ll appreciate that you care. It’s a lot weirder if you don’t mention it at all.
Face the awkwardness head on.
If you see the person in a public setting, don’t avoid them. Say something… anything. This seems pretty intuitive, but you’d be surprise by how many people would rather avoid the person than chance an awkward conversation. Nothing feels worse than being in the midst of grief + having people avoid you because they don’t know what to say. Grief isn’t contagious, you’re not going to catch it by talking to the person. Just start with hello.
Send thoughtful text messages.
Messages that don’t require a response. Messages that simply say some variation of “I’m thinking of you and I’m here anytime you need me.” Text messages like “how are you?” are not always helpful. The griever may not be capable of formulating a concise text message about how they’re feeling because their emotions are probably all over the place. If you really want to know how they’re doing, call them. If you text them, don’t expect a response.
Offer to do something specific.
Making decisions is utterly overwhelming while you’re battling the stages of grief, and decisions seem to be everywhere. Text or call your loved one and ask them to do a specific activity, at a certain location and time. If they’re up for it, this allows them to see you without having to make any decisions about how, when or where.
Ask what they need.
People get in trouble when they assume that they know what is best for the person grieving. But only they can know what they truly need. Sometimes it can take a while before they’re even aware of what they need, and that’s OK. Don’t make assumptions, just be patient + trust that they’ll tell you when they’re ready.
Continue to check in.
The loss will continue to be on their mind long after most people have forgotten all about it. Make yourself a note to remember to check in. Put a note on your calendar so that you can remember the days that might be difficult for that person. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss or bring it up — I promise it hasn’t gone far from their mind.
There’s a misconception that you have to act a certain way around people who are grieving. Like they have lost their ability to laugh at a joke or communicate normally. This isn’t true! Be yourself and don’t be afraid to make a lighthearted joke when you can. But most importantly, the best thing you can do is to be yourself.