It’s difficult to start a conversation with someone that is grieving the loss of a loved one. You could start out with something like: “I have no idea what to say and I know I cannot make this right.” You can also say: “I want to give you space and privacy, but I am also worried about you and want to check in.” I want you to know I am here for you in case you need me.”
Caring for each other is hard. Letting the griever know your discomfort will allow you to be there. Showing this discomfort tells the griever you care for them and are willing to go through this discomfort. Your effort will be noticed and appreciated.
We always want a road map or a guide that we can follow when helping someone who is grieving. Here are a few suggestions that might help:
- Don’t compare griefs. Every person has experienced loss in their lives but has not experienced “THIS” grief. Resist the urge to use your own loss to help with someone’s loss. You can ask questions about their experience. If you have had a similar loss, you can express that you are familiar with how bizarre and overwhelming grief can be. Just stick to the general territory and not that you know what they are specifically going through.
- Don’t fact check and don’t correct. Specially in early grief, a person’s timeline is confusing. They may get dates wrong or they may remember things differently than they actually happened. Resist challenging them or correcting them.
- Do let them own their own experience. It doesn’t matter if they are correct.
- Don’t minimize. You might think their grief is out of proportion and might want to correct them and make it more realistic.
- Do remember the grief belongs to the griever. Your opinion about their grief doesn’t matter. They get to decide how bad things feel.
- Don’t give compliments. When someone is in pain, they don’t need to be reminded how smart they are or or how beautiful, fantastic or resourceful they are. Don’t tell them they are strong or brave.
- Do remind them you are there. Let them know you are there for them in case they need you. They can always lean on you when the load of grief gets too heavy to carry alone.
- Don’t be a cheerleader. Not every corner needs the bright light of encouragement. It’s okay for them to not see the light and be a mess.
- Don’t encourage the person to have gratitude for the good things that still exist. Good thing and horrible things occupy the same space.
- Do mirror their reality back to them. If they say “this entirely sucks,” you say “yes it does.”
- Don’t talk about later. Right now for the griever, they might feel there is no future and that future is irrelevant for them.
- Do stay in the present moment. Or if the person goes to the past, go there with them.
- Don’t evangelize. When you find something that has worked for you, it’s tempting for you to share your experience and what worked for you. Wait until they ask you for your advice.
- Do get consent. Before you offer solutions or strategies, ask them if they want empathy or a strategy. Respect their answer.
Source: It’s OK That You’re Not Ok by Megan Devine