“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” – Saint Augustine
I lost both my parents within 3 days of each other and when they died my world came crashing down. I was in shock and so much pain that I could hardly breathe. I continued to feel the pain and grief for many months.
When caring for and supporting someone who is grieving, it is easy to feel helpless. There is no way we can take away the pain and the intensity of their grief and that can be overwhelming for us. I know that many people wanted to help me ease the pain of my grief and only now do I understand that supporting someone who have experienced loss can be difficult.
While there is no perfect way to care for and support someone who is grieving, these 6 guidelines will help you to care for a friend or partner in their time of need.
1. Prepare Yourself To Experience The Physical Pain Of The Persons Grief
Be open to experiencing and feeling that person’s grief. You will have emotions that will arise within you and they should not be held back. If you feel you need to cry, then cry. If the person goes to hug you and holds on to you sobbing don’t pull away, respond and hug them back for as long as it takes for them to release the hug.
Always be genuine about how you feel and if you don’t know what to say acknowledge it by saying ” I am sorry this has happened to you. I am not sure what to say, but what I want you to know is that I care about you and I am here for you”.
2. Understand The Grieving Process
Experiencing the tragic loss of my parents I learnt that there was a lot more to grief than I had ever known. I did not know that there was a difference between grief and mourning. Grief are the internal thoughts and feelings we experience when someone we love dies. Mourning is taking the internal experience of grief and expressing it outside of ourselves.
Instead of being encouraged to express grief externally, we are told to; “keep your chin up”, “take it day by day'”, “keep yourself busy” or “tomorrow is another day”. Many people as a result feel uncomfortable and so grieve in isolation which is not helpful for the healing process.
If you have not experienced grief and loss you can still support and care for a grieving friend or partner. Spend some time reading and learning about the grieving process. This information will give you a better insight as to how you can help and what help you can offer to a person as they mourn for the loss of their loved one
There is no right or wrong way to grieve however the better you understand grief and how it is healed the better you will know how to help.
3. Avoid These Statements
I know that people have good intentions and truly cared for me. They wanted to help me when I was grieving however some people did make some totally useless statements in their effort to show their support. These statements only intensified the pain of my grief and made me feel even more isolated. I felt that it was me who was in the wrong and that I was grieving too much! So be aware of the statements you make in your effort to help someone who is grieving.
Here are few statements you should avoid at all costs:
- She or he is in a better place.
- You must be strong.
- He or she are at peace or they lived a good life.
- God must have wanted her or him because she or he was such a good person.
- Everything happens for a reason, life must go on.
- I know exactly how you feel.
- I guess it was his or her time to go.
- Its part of God’s plan.
- Look at what you have to be thankful for.
- This is behind you now – its time to get on with your life.
4. Listen with Compassion
Many people who grieve do not give themselves permission to mourn or receive permission from others to mourn. People tend to view grief as something that needs to be overcome rather than be experienced.
When grief is suppressed and internalised it creates confusion and internal anxiety within a person. Encourage and support your friend or partner to move toward their grief, rather than away from it and to mourn for the person they have lost.
Do not avoid talking about death or mentioning the deceased person. People who are grieving need to feel that their loss is acknowledged and that the person is not forgotten. Check in with your friend or partner to see if they are okay to talk about their loss by asking them, “Do you feel like talking?”
Accept and acknowledge their feelings and that it is okay for them to get angry, cry or sit in silence. When you care and support a person who is grieving, be willing and comfortable to sit in silence. Having someone who cares and loves them by their side is a key part of the healing process.
5. Offer Practical Support
It is difficult for a grieving person to ask for help. There are many reasons for this, such as having no energy or motivation to ask for help. For me it was because I felt guilty asking for help. I thought that I would be a burden as my friends led such busy lives that they had no time to spare.
If you want to help and support a friend or your partner who is grieving take the initiative and make specific suggestions. For example you could say “I am going to the market this morning. What can I get you?”; “Lets go for a coffee and walk. I will pick you up at…”; “I have made a casserole for your dinner and will drop it off this afternoon”.
6. Provide Ongoing Support
Grief continues for the person long after the funeral. Once my parents funerals were over and everybody had gone home that was when it hit me. Life was back to normal. Children back to school and me back to work. In one week my life had traumatically changed and yet life kept on going. It is at this point when the support and care of friends and family was most important.
If you want to support and care for your friend or partner, be prepared to be there for the long haul. Do not make assumptions about how your friend or partner appears to be on the outside. Avoid saying “you look well” or “you are doing great”. Inside they will be still feeling the pain so ask them “do you feel like talking?” or “what can I do for you?”.
Take the initiative and be aware that this person’s life will never be the same. You never get over grief, instead you become reconciled to it. Over time you learn to move forward with your life without the physical presence of the person who has died.
With your ongoing support and care, your friend or partner will slowly start to feel more energy to moving forward in their life. They will start talking more positively about life and one day they will acknowledge to you that although their grief was a difficult and painful time, they understand that it is a necessary part of living.
That is when you know you have done an amazing job caring for and supporting someone you love who is grieving. They are now moving forward with their life.