Helping and Understanding Someone Who is Grieving
Helping and Understanding Someone Who is Grieving; By: Dawn Tippett, LCSW-C, CT
I have worked with many bereaved clients in my 19 years at Gilchrist. Throughout that time, many themes have arisen, but maybe none more so than the perspective that people just “don’t understand what I’m going through.” Many of our bereaved marvel at those who step up and are there for them. At the same time, they feel great sadness and disappointment with those who don’t.
As the weeks go by and everyone else goes back to their routines, the bereaved begin to feel more lonely, isolated and forgotten. And this, just as the reality of their loss is fully setting in and they are experiencing their pain more intensely.
Too often, it seems, we don’t reach out to someone who is grieving because we “don’t know what to say.” We may fear saying the wrong thing or worry that we will make them sad if they are having a good day. But the reality is that sadness and grief, especially in the first weeks and months, are always present.
So, what can we do to support those we care about as they grieve the death of a loved one? Before we explore that, a brief education on what grief looks like may be helpful.
- Know that grief is an expected and natural reaction to a loss
- There is no timeline for this process. It takes as long as it takes
- Expressions of grief will look different for everyone
- Grief can manifest in many and sometimes unexpected ways
How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving
With this information in mind, let’s look at what we can do to support someone who is grieving.
- Show up—be there, especially after most everyone else has disappeared
- Know that this isn’t a problem to be fixed
- Be a listening ear, willing to sit through the stories and tears
- Offer concrete help such as grocery shopping, childcare and lawn mowing
- Call or text just to check in, especially evenings and weekends, which often are most challenging for those who are grieving
What Not to Do
As important as what we can do is keeping in mind what not to do.
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice
- Don’t offer trite phrases or platitudes. When in doubt, silence is preferable
- Don’t ask prying questions about what happened. They will share if and when they are ready
- Don’t try to “cheer them up.” Allow them the opportunity to express their true feelings without fear of judgment
Never underestimate the power of your presence and willingness to sit with someone in the depths of their pain. And while this can be incredibly uncomfortable for many of us, if we push through this discomfort, these connections can be so meaningful not only for the bereaved but for us as well.
To learn more about Gilchrist’s Grief Counseling program, visit gilchristcares.org/grief-counseling.
To support our work, visit gilchristcares.org/give.