When a loved one or friend is grieving for someone who has passed, it can be difficult to navigate the waters and find the right words to say and the right things to do.
For one, people who are in mourning can react in different ways, based on how close they were to the deceased, the circumstances surrounding the death and their attitudes towards their own mortality.
Secondly, as a friend, colleague or family member, you may also be grappling with the very same issues. And what’s more: wanting to react perfectly and offer comforting words not only can add stress but also cause awkward situations in which you think you are doing the right thing—but you end up creating a malaise instead.
When a death occurs, there are many ways to support the person you care about. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Here are our top tips of what to keep in mind:
Don’t offer platitudes like “I know how you’re feeling” or “You should really get on with your life. He would have wanted it that way.” Even if you think you know how the person is feeling, you really don’t. Grieving is a personal matter. That is why it is important to acknowledge the powerlessness he or she may be feeling by saying “I don’t have the words to say regarding what you are going through. But my heart pours out to you.” If you are looking to support someone you are not as close too, a personalized note offering your condolences can do wonders to show that you care.
Remember, the person is probably going through a tidal wave of emotions and many be overwhelmed with the logistics surrounding the death. Instead, tell him or her that you are there for them. Offer help to alleviate some day-to-day tasks that add an extra weight on his or her shoulders: walk the dog, make a meal for the kids, do the grocery shopping, etc. If a colleague, offer to pick up breakfast on the way to work or a much-needed caffeine fix in the afternoon.
When someone is in mourning, they are often surrounded by a lot of loved ones and friends during the first few days. However, once the funeral, burial or celebration of life has passed, the grief doesn’t automatically disappear—and the person may feel the need to isolate himself or herself as they evolve through the five-step grieving process: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. The person may refuse help or quickly get off the phone as he or she goes through the process. But keep in contact anyways. That means listening to the person, offering a shoulder to cry on or helping in any way you can—on his or her terms.
Being there for someone who is dealing with a death does not mean trying to bring back the deceased or forcing a loved one to “get on with life.” Offering constant support and listening to their needs will go a long way to making their sorrow a little less bitter.