Helping Others Help You Through Grief

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

When you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, one of the most difficult things you will go through is trying to find out what helps you adjust to the loss. This can be compounded when others around you don’t understand what you’re going through, and don’t know how to help you. Although you may not have much energy, and you may be reluctant to become a teacher, it may be just what your family and friends need to help you through your grief.

The concept of “pocket phrases” can be quite useful in helping others learn what you need as you grieve. These are statements that you practice ahead of time so that they come to you effortlessly in the moments when you are upset but still need to ask for someone’s help or understanding.

“That’s not helpful.” Usually, our friends and family are trying to help, however their actions may have the opposite effect. With practice, you can develop the ability to say this in a calm, confident voice that halts comments or behaviour that you find hurtful.

“Grief isn’t easy, but it is necessary.” Well-meaning people sometimes want us to move through grief quickly when that is just not possible. You can remind them that it’s normal to feel a full range of feelings after a loss and you don’t need to ‘cheer up’.

“I’m adapting. It takes time to adjust.” When someone in your circle of acquaintances asks how you’re doing, you can use this phrase to remind them that grief is a process. You can ask them directly to have patience with your intense feelings, the changes in your routines and at the same time let them know you’ll never be quite the same again.

“I’m not strong. I’m just doing what I must.” This phrase can be helpful when people praise your ability to function in routine tasks and situations. You may want them to understand that although you may look well on the outside, there’s still a whirlwind of emotion and distress raging unpredictably inside you.

“I like it when you say their name and we talk about them.” You can let people know they don’t have to be afraid to mention your loved one. If you want to share stories, and hear stories from others, you may need to give permission with a clear, direct statement such as this so that people aren’t afraid they will hurt you more by talking about them.

These sample statements can be a good starting point for developing your own useful “pocket phrases” to help teach the people in your life how to help you as you grieve. Remember that the more you practice the things you wish you could say, the easier it will become to pull them out in a peaceful and positive way when needed.

Caring for Someone Who is Grieving

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

Caring for Someone Who is Grieving

When someone you care about is grieving, it can be hard to know what to do. It may be that you haven’t been through a similar experience and you feel unsure what will be helpful. It’s also quite likely that they’ll be unsure what they need themselves, or that in their grief they may not have the energy to educate you. There are endless possible ways to offer support and comfort to someone who is grieving.

Send Something

Make meals or bring groceries. It helps if you know their preferences and can respect any dietary needs or allergies, but if you don’t know them that well you can stick to basics options such as pasta and sauce.

Create remembrance items such as a framed photo, or something special that holds meaning related to the person who died and their relationship with the griever.

Prepare a care box including comfort care items such as tea, hand lotion, cozy socks, music, magazines or books.

Do Something

Take care of some basic chores. Rake their leaves. Put the garbage out. Offer to walk the dog, or take the children to lessons.

Run errands. If you’re going to the grocery store or the pharmacy, text and ask if they need anything while you’re there.

Invite them for tea or coffee (or beer or wine) and let them know that they can come as they are, tears and all. When they cry, or complain, or sit in silence, be patient and just allow their process.

Accept and Encourage Both Pain and Joy

Don’t be afraid to sit with them as they roll through the difficult emotions of sadness, fear, guilt, anger, regret and more. But don’t be afraid to laugh with them, too. Remember, grief involves the FULL range of our feelings, often in unpredictable bursts.

Keep It Up Over Time

Grievers are often surrounded by people offering care and condolences in the days and weeks following a loss. In time, all those supporters return to their regular routines and carry on with their busy lives, because the loss was not theirs and did not disrupt their lives the same way it does for the bereaved person. When you reach out to let the mourner know you are thinking of them, whether by text, with a phone call or a note months later, and continue to reach out from time to time, you can trust that it will be appreciated as they will know they are not completely forgotten as the world moves on without their loved one.

Whatever actions you take, pay attention to the person. Try to notice what they might need and show up for them in ways that make sense in their life, rather than simply doing the things you would want if it was your grief. A little kindness, acceptance and understanding can go a long way to support someone you care about as they grieve.