Grief and loss are things we will all experience at some point in our lives.
They’re accompanied by a range of strong emotions, and it’s hard to know what to say or do to help those who have lost someone. We often feel helpless when it comes to interacting with those faced with loss. If we learn a little more about the process, we can build confidence in our ability to support those we care for. This support is key in helping others work through grief.
I saw Dr. Alan Wolfelt, who has authored several books on bereavement, speak a few years ago. He provided some insight on what we can do to help those who have recently lost someone and need help moving through their grief. Wolfelt points out that not everyone who tries to offer support has the same effect. He says that:
- 1/3 of people help through the grieving process.
- 1/3 of people have a neutral effect—no better, no worse.
- 1/3 of people not only don’t help, they actually make someone feel worse!
Learning to Support
In my experience as a therapist, I have seen cases where family or friends have unintentionally made someone feel worse, often due to expectations to “get over it” too soon and being insensitive to the grieving process. It is usually best to simply listen and “be there,” rather than giving advice or answers.
Listening is the beginning. To make more of a difference, you can use “companioning” to help your loved one navigate this difficult time. Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain, not about taking the pain away. This is a tough distinction for most people. We don’t want our loved ones hurting, but moving through this pain is how people come to terms with their loss.
When friends or loved ones are grieving, they are less in tune to their own personal needs. By helping ensure that these needs are met, you are putting your loved ones on a better path to recovery.
Basic Human Needs to Monitor
- Physical: Stress can lead to physical discomfort, even to the point where one’s immune system can break down. It’s important to make sure that your loved ones continue to take care of themselves.
- Emotional: Emotions can be like a roller coaster, from intense to withdrawn.
- Cognitive: Grief can cause one to lose short-term memory and have a hard time staying on task.
- Social: You might find that a bereaved person doesn’t want to be around others or know how to act.
- Spiritual: Grief and loss can cause a great deal of spiritual discomfort, like wondering, “Why did this happen?”
What to Do Besides “Being There”
- Listen with compassion: This can include sitting in silence, hearing the story surrounding their loss, and hearing them out as they express their feelings and memories. Acknowledge what happened, express your concern, be genuine, and don’t give advice or try to fix.
- Assist with activities of daily living: This can include meals, errands, housework, bills, or helping with kids.
- Monitor self care: Make sure they are meeting their basic needs, encourage short naps, and give reminders to eat or drink if necessary.
- Provide ongoing support: Check in and take note of special days like anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. There is no timetable for grief. No matter how well someone appears to be doing, there will still be periods of difficult times ahead.
Dr. Wolfelt reflects, “When the death of someone precious is not resolved or explained, but expressed, stored, and experienced, gently, over time, in small doses, it finds its way to meaning.”
© Copyright 2011 by Melissa Wright. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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