When someone we care about is grieving, it can be incredibly difficult to know what to say or do. Although everyone’s experience with grief is entirely different, there are some ways in which you can ensure that they feel heard, understood, and supported. In fact, attempting to empathise with how they might feel or understand what they likely need during this challenging time is a sign that you’re already on the right track. In this blog post, we’ll be looking at how you can show your support, as well as touch on things you should or shouldn’t say.
How to Support Someone Who is Grieving
Someone in a state of grief may struggle with painful and intense emotions. These can manifest in several ways – depression, anger, resentment, guilt, or simply a deep sense of sadness . Following a loss, they might feel isolated or left to deal with their emotions alone. It is also common that this awareness of their intense feelings can make them uncomfortable receiving support. So although it may be difficult for you to offer your support, they too might struggle to accept it. However, regardless, you shouldn’t let this dissuade you from reaching out. Now, perhaps more so than ever, your help, understanding, and support can be crucial.
This might be a good time to point out that when a loved one is grieving, it is sometimes not what you say or do that matters most, but simply knowing that you are there and that they are not alone. A sense of love, care, and presence is likely the kind of support that will lead them on a path to healing .
Things You Can Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Tell them how sorry you are.
During a time of grief, it is essential to acknowledge the fact that it happened and express your sympathy. You can do this by saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I heard about the passing of (your father), I am so sorry”.
Ask how they’re feeling.
Asking your loved one how they feel opens up a conversation rather than making a statement, which can sometimes leave them feeling isolated. Asking, “how are you feeling?” or “would you like to talk about it?” lets them know that you are there for them throughout the grieving process.
Tell them you’re thinking of them.
Although you may not be able to change the situation at hand, reaching out in this way can show them that they are not alone. Depending on how close you may be to the person and your preferences, you can simply say, “I am thinking of you, and I am here for you”.
Recognise how hard this must be for them.
When one of our loved ones is grieving, it is usually an instinct of ours to try and fix the problem or take away their pain. In this case, however, we can’t do that, but we can recognise and acknowledge their struggle and emotional distress.
Reassure them that however they may be feeling is okay.
As we mentioned before, grief can manifest in many different ways. Social norms often expect sadness from those in bereavement rather than other emotions like anger, resentment, or guilt. You can reassure your loved one by saying, “no matter what you’re feeling right now, it’s okay. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve” .
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Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Don’t assume you know how they feel.
Although it may seem helpful to say, “You must be feeling…” or “I know exactly how you feel”, these aren’t likely to be taken well. Although you may have lost someone close to you in the past, your feelings are not synonymous with theirs. Instead of assuming what they might be feeling, allow them to let you know how they feel.
Avoid trying to fix it.
When trying to fix things with words, we can often say, “they are at peace now” or “everything happens for a reason”. Phrases like these can be counterproductive and usually don’t resolve the feelings they have.
Don’t set expectations for how long healing ‘should’ last.
For some, healing can be quick; for others, it may take years. Avoid discussing healing time altogether, as it may lead to feelings of inadequacy or failure to move on ‘fast enough’.
Avoid religious or spiritual ideas unless appropriate.
Phrases such as “they are in a better place now” or “God has a plan” may be comforting to some. However, these ideas will not have the same effect on those who aren’t religious or spiritual, or are currently feeling resentment towards religion in some way .
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Practical Tips to Help Someone Who is Grieving
Offer practical help.
Those who are grieving are often reluctant to ask for help in fear of being a burden or seeking attention. Try and make consistent offers of assistance to relieve the burden of them having to ask for it. Some reasonable offers include: dropping off groceries or running errands; helping with funeral arrangements; housework or admin; suggesting activities to do together; caring for their children/pets .
Provide ongoing support.
Someone who is grieving often requires extra support long after the formalities (i.e., funeral) have come to an end. If you can, stay in touch with your loved one, check in often or send them a text, cards/gifts/flowers. Remember them on special days, such as public holidays or celebrations, by letting them know you are there to support them.
Look out for signs of depression.
If you notice that your loved one’s normal symptoms of depression are lasting longer than a few months or are increasing over time, this may be a sign that they have developed clinical depression. In this case, encourage them to seek out professional help. If you are worried about them taking it the wrong way, try phrasing your concerns from your own point of view, pointing out specific behaviours that seem worrying to you. For example, you could say: “I’ve noticed that you’re spending lots of time at home, and I wonder if you’re feeling lonely?”
Don’t assume you know what they need.
Sometimes, our instinctive reaction to someone who is grieving is to try to cheer them up or distract them with activities, outings, etc. However, the best course of action after experiencing a loss is not to avoid your emotions but simply ‘be’ with them instead. With this in mind, our presence is the most precious thing we can offer.
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What to do if You’re Struggling
Supporting a loved one who is grieving can be an incredibly difficult time for both you and them. Although your sole focus may be on helping your loved one, it’s essential to check in with yourself too. If you’ve noticed that you or your loved one is feeling depressed or anxious, consider reaching out to a professional. Do the same if you are struggling with the challenging bereavement process.
At Therapy Central, we use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other approaches to help individuals cope with grief and get their life back on track. In this way, you’ll be able to talk about your experience with professionals equipped to provide you with the help you need.
Consider contacting one of our qualified therapists today.
You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help will suit your needs.
Note: We are not an emergency or crisis service and do not handle high-risk patients. For emergency help, please contact one of the helplines mentioned above and listed below.