If you’re one of the lucky ones who’s never had to struggle through losing someone or something close to you, then it can probably feel a little daunting trying to show up for a close friend or loved one who is struggling through grief. Even if you have lost someone in the past, grief is a very personal and isolating experience, so figuring out the best way to help someone can be a complicated path to navigate.
There are a lot of complex and painful emotions attributed to grief, such as sadness, depression, guilt, anger, and helplessness. Bereavement is one of the loneliest and most isolating experiences, as people on the periphery often struggle to know how to offer their support and tend to leave people to process on their own.
If someone you care about is grieving, we understand that it can be hard to be there for them in fear of saying the wrong thing or putting your foot in it. But Morale is here to tell you that now, more than, ever they need their support system in place to help them get through this challenging time. You don’t need to have all the answers or make it better for them, just being there to listen and support them throughout their grief journey can be enough to lessen the load for someone.
Because we think everyone should have the support they deserve in a time of need, we’ve put together our top tips for helping someone who is struggling with grief so you can show up for them when they need you most.
Understanding the grieving process
Grief is a natural but complicated response to loss, so understanding a little bit about it is one of the best ways that you can prepare yourself to help someone through it.
Whether it came as a sudden shock or had been expected for a while, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming and suffocating. There are several emotions attributed to grief, such as disbelief, sadness, anger, or guilt, as well as disrupting your daily life and physical health too. These are all normal reactions to loss and the more significant the loss, the more significant the grief will be.
Another thing you should be aware of is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief. It’s not organised or predictable and will differ from person to person. For some people, grief can be a steady downhill trajectory, whilst others experience an extreme rollercoaster of highs and lows. Each people will need slightly different things from their support system, but one thing they will all require is the reassurance that what they’re feeling is normal.
There is no set timescale for bereavement either. For some, the grief of losing someone they love will never go away, for others they are able to adapt and move on in a shorter time frame. One thing is for certain though, life will never go back to the way it was before they lost that person, so don’t pressure them and let them sort through their emotions and learn to cope with it in their own time.
How to help someone who’s grieving
Often, people get worried about being there for someone who’s grieving as they don’t know what to say. But helping someone who is dealing with grief or loss is actually just about being there for them when they need you and is more to do with listening than it is with speaking. Deep down you probably instinctively know what you need to do, so don’t avoid them out of worry that you’ll say the wrong thing or really put your foot in it. Make sure that they know you’re there to support them and let them guide you on what they need. Here are a few of the big things to keep in mind when you’re showing up for someone who’s grieving.
Acknowledge the situation
When someone is dealing with loss, one of the worst things that you can do is avoid mentioning it altogether. It’s very easy for someone who has passed away to fade to the back of people’s memories but sweeping it under the rug and avoiding difficult conversations is not a good way to help someone deal with their grief.
Reaching out to acknowledge what has happened and to offer your support and love can be incredibly helpful for someone and might be exactly what they needed to hear. By ignoring the situation, you are subtly letting them know that you don’t want to talk about it so they’re less likely to use your support or speak about things. Avoiding the topic when someone is bereaved will only force them further into isolation and leave them feeling totally alone in dealing with their emotions. Make sure you reach out to give your condolences and offer your support, so the person feels heard and comfortable opening up to you when they are ready.
Don’t be too positive or negative
There are a few phrases or responses when someone is grieving that are big no-no’s when it comes to supporting someone. Sentences like ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘they’re in a better place now’ are unhelpful and can come across as insensitive. Whilst the sentiment might have been genuine, trying to put a positive spin on an otherwise horrible situation will make you look unrelatable and will probably upset them further. Instead, don’t sugarcoat the situation and acknowledge it for what it is, which is heartbreakingly sad. Sometimes people who are grieving just need a safe space to let it all out and talk about it, even if it’s negative. If you’re struggling to find a response, then avoid saying anything and just let them talk it out.
On the other hand, throwing an overly negative light on the situation can dampen anyone’s attempts to see the positive or move on. It might seem that there is no right answer here, so if you’re concerned about putting your foot in it, it’s best to stay neutral or keep quiet and listen until they’re done talking.
Don’t compare it to your situation
Whether you’ve experienced loss or not, try to avoid comparing your experience with theirs. Even if you both have gone through a similar loss, everyone’s experience with grief will be different and chances are you’re coping with it in a very different way than they are. Comparing situations, even if it comes from a good place to be relatable or understanding, can make someone feel unheard and less likely to open up. Give them the space to talk and process without judgement or interjecting.
Don’t try to fix it
It’s a natural human instinct to want to fix things for the people we care about. When tough times roll around or someone is faced with a challenging situation, our first port of call is to try and make it better. But when someone is dealing with loss, there really isn’t anything that can be done to fix it for them. Trying too hard to find solutions or make someone feel better can end up having an adverse effect, leaving them to feel rushed or pressured to move on. Appreciate the horrible situation for what it is and try to fix it by being there for them when they need you.
Keep the support going
Showing up once or twice in the early days after someone has suffered a loss is great. But your loved one is going to be grieving for a while, long after the flowers and the condolence cards have stopped arriving, so make sure you’re still showing up for them. As we mentioned above, the length of time a person spends grieving will differ for everybody but often lasts longer than most people expect it to.
You might be holding back from dropping them a text or popping by their house because you’re worried about reminding them of their loss. However, the feeling that someone cares can be so comforting, so just send a text, drop off some flowers, or show up at their house. Both you and they will feel a little bit better for it.
Keep an eye out for any serious mental health conditions
Experiencing a lot of negative emotions, such as sadness, helplessness, or feeling disconnected from the world around them, goes hand in hand with someone who’s grieving, so don’t worry straight away if your loved one isn’t who they used to be. It’s important, however, to keep an eye on them and make sure their symptoms don’t worsen and do start to gradually improve over time. If they don’t start getting better or they continue to spiral, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re dealing with a more serious mental health condition, like depression for example.
If you observe that they’re struggling to cope with daily tasks, have no motivation, and are letting things like their personal hygiene slip then these are some good indicators that they might need to seek external professional help. This can be a tough conversation to initiate but make sure, however uncomfortable, that you do bring it up, so they know to seek some support. If you’re worried about saying anything, try to position it from your perspective instead of telling them what you think they should do or criticising how they’re living their life. For example, you could say something along the lines of ‘I am worried that you aren’t getting enough sleep, perhaps you could seek some help for that’.
Download the Morale app
The Morale app was made to support your friends and family, so it’s the perfect tool to help someone who’s grieving. Every day send them an anonymous affirmation to remind them that they aren’t alone and that they will get through this tough time. The right words can work to boost someone’s mindset when they’re grieving, remind them that they are strong enough to keep living their life and remind them that they always have a network around them to keep them afloat, even when the loss makes them feel like they’re drowning. The app is available for download from Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
Don’t forget that if you’ve got something to say or you’d like to know more about what we do, you can always drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org