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How to Support a Grieving Friend or Family Member

July 26th, 2023

The death of a loved one can elicit a wide range of intense and complicated emotions that vary from person to person. These feelings include everything from trauma and sadness to anger and depression. The feelings a grieving friend or family member may experience depend on several factors. These include resilience levels and the ability to handle stress, deeply held religious beliefs that may provide comfort or deepen despair, an ability to regulate emotions and how attached they were to the departed. Most of all, how someone experiencing loss reacts to and navigates the grieving process ultimately depends on their support system – the friends, family and coworkers who surround them.

As someone who is part of this circle of someone experiencing loss, this is where YOU come in. Empathy, understanding and patience are key. Even when you’re met with resistance, even when they seem inconsolable, even when they seem distant, let them know you’re there for them. Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate the support process.

Be Present

First and foremost, simply be there and be present. Even without saying a word, the act of showing up can help provide peace and comfort, making it easier for them to let their guard down and share emotions. Although it may not feel like you’re doing a lot by simply sitting and listening, they’ll know they’re not alone and you’ll feel less helpless. Just remember to avoid interrupting, offering immediate solutions or taking over the conversation with your own stories of loss. Allow them the space to share memories of their loved one or to just sit in silence with you.

Validate Their Emotions

Another way to show up for grieving friends and family members is to always remember that grief is a complex and often overwhelming experience. No two people will experience grief in exactly the same way. From crying spells and outbursts to workaholic escapism and inward regression, let them express themselves their way. Then acknowledge their feelings without judgement. Try not to minimize their feelings or compare them to the experiences of others. Let them know that whatever they are feeling is valid and deserves to be felt. Many people struggle with showing emotions, and you can help them overcome that hurdle by simply being there and showing your unconditional support.

Respect Their Process

This can’t be said enough: the grieving process is unique to each individual. Just like those who have experienced loss have their own ways of coping, everyone also has their own timeline for healing. Some will heal more quickly than others. Some will seem to be doing incredibly well, then will suddenly find themselves immersed in loss again. Some may need to constantly socialize to deal with the pain and others may need to be alone. Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. After the supportive phone calls, sympathy cards and memorial flowers go away after a death, remember to be the one who continues to check in. And as always, if someone seems to be in exceptionally deep distress, seek professional help.

Be Mindful of Important Dates

Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries following a loss can be especially hard for someone who is grieving. Milestone dates open a floodgate of memories and can retrigger intense feelings that remind them a friend or family is longer with them. Be particularly patient and understanding during these times. Acknowledge the date with a short text or even a phone call. Let them know you’re thinking of them, and offer to meet them for a walk or a cup of coffee if they’re up for it. You can even send a photo of their loved one from years past to show their memory continues to live on, or drop off flowers as an unexpected, thoughtful surprise.

When it comes to loss, the number one rule is to simply be there, be there, be there. This includes offering emotional support and helping with funeral arrangements, a celebration of life or even sorting through their lost loved one’s belongings. Someone close to you has lost someone who was a very important part of their life. So remind them of the friends and family (like you) who remain here by their side.

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