Going through grief can be very overwhelming and make the griever feel lonely. For a griever, the support and love from their family and friends can uphold them. At such a time of emotional turmoil, words fail to comfort the griever. Eventually, your actions are the source of comfort.
Grief is caused by the death of a loved one, divorce, breakup, miscarriages, financial instability, losing a dream job, moving out of a cherished home and many others. Grieving is a subjective process as well as a universal process. Each one going through loss experiences grief and each one’s grieving process depends on their coping style, life experiences, resilience, faith and significance of the loss. Likewise, comforting a griever also needs a subjective approach. The question being “how to help a grieving friend or a family member?”. Providing a shoulder to cry on comes with its own burden.
Understand The Grieving Process
The process of grieving begins with the realisation of the loss. Once the loss has been comprehended, there is an inflow of various emotions causing a complete turmoil. The prominently observed emotional responses to loss are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They neither have to be in that particular order nor are all these experienced by all grievers.
Hence recognizing the current stage of grief before you lend a shoulder to cry on will help you support the griever better.
How To Comfort A Grieving Friend or Relative?
Here are a few ways of comforting a grieving friend or relative:
1. Grief belongs to them
Grief is a personal experience and how the griever deals with it is his or her own choice. Avoid advising them on how to handle their own emotions. Be a support rather than their leader. Let them lead while you walk beside them. Avoid using statements like “stop crying now, it will be fine” or “the deceased person would not have liked to see you sad”.
2. Don’t try to make it better
Grief is undoubtedly painful. Saying things like “everything happens for a reason”, “be grateful for the memories you have”, “it will be okay”, “you still have so much to live for” and more diminishes the significance of that pain and makes the griever feel unimportant. Avoid trying to console the griever through toxic positivity. Avoid curtailing their expression of sadness by pointing out the positives.
3. Stand strong and witness the ugly crying
Many of us get awkward when someone starts crying around us. We do not know how to handle the situation. Unfortunately grief involves an uncontrollable overflow of tears until the eyes go dry. At such a time, make sure to stand in the presence of the griever without wanting to escape the situation. They will always remember you for being by their side during their worst phase. The grieving person is unlikely to hear your words as they cry, therefore the best option would be to just sit beside them, hold their hand or hug them as they cry.
Strengthen yourself to be their consoler.
Attain the skills required.
A very important part of being a griever’s support is listening to them pour their heart out, it lightens their burden.When the griever begins expressing their emotions in conversations, let them speak without trying to change the topic or interrupting them. Pay full attention to what they are saying and give a verbal or nonverbal response (a nod, hold their hand) which will make them feel acknowledged.
5. Give benefit of doubt
A grieving person is usually facing an overwhelm of emotions that is difficult to handle. The smallest of things can act as a trigger. Hence they may behave in ways not common to them. They may get angry easily, make hurtful remarks, avoid people or push their support system away. Make sure not to take this personally, give them their space but also stand right outside their space so you can step in to comfort them whenever they need. Be understanding towards their turmoil and make them feel acknowledged.
6. Grief doesn’t end with the funeral
In case the grief is a result of a loved one’s death, keep in mind that the funeral may be the beginning of grief rather than the end. No matter how prepared or pre-warned the griever is of their loved one’s death, it always comes as a shock which causes numbness. This numbness fades in the days after the funeral and that is when they start experiencing the huge loss.They sense the vacant place left by their loved one as they get back to daily life. Therefore be available for them even after the funeral is over. Keep in touch.
7. Mention them
Many times people assume it would be best not to mention the deceased in fear that it may trigger the griever. Truth is, the griever himself never forgets the deceased therefore even if mentioning the deceased brings tears to their eyes, it also brings them joy knowing that others are missing their loved one too. On the other hand, it is terrible to erase the deceased from memories and conversations. It is best to acknowledge their passage and keep them alive in the conversations.
8. Offer practical assistance
The heavy burden of loss can often make one feel disinterested in the daily things of life. The griever may begin to ignore their own requirements and even that of others. As a supporter, help them with the basic things like accompany them grocery shopping, to their doctors appointments. Bring in meals or other essentials for them at times. Spend time with them as they do their daily tasks. Offer to walk their dog or take out the trash or make their bed. This can make them feel relaxed and cherished.
9. What not to say to the griever
Grief does not have a fixed time limit. Each one deals with it at their own pace. In case you are supporting a grieving friend, do not rush their grieving process.Comments like “it has been a long time since the incident” or “I thought you would be over it by now” make the griever conscious and unwanted. Avoid such judgements keeping in mind they are relying on you for emotional support.
10. Provide ongoing support
We surely do not want to patronise the griever with toxic positivity but when all seems hopeless to them, we have to assure them that their emotions are valid and there will be a way through, that you are standing beside them through their bad times. They may never forget their cause of grief but they will learn to live with it.
Last but not the least, love them unconditionally. Show acts of love without expecting anything in return from them. Do not let their loss or trauma change the relationship you have with them. This will help them feel normal and even stabilise their emotions.
Walking with someone through their grief may be a tough task but the above tips to support a grieving person can ease the process.
Some of our comforters may not be well equipped to support us, hence, if you need a shoulder to cry on, the above points are the qualities you require in your comforters.