1. Tangible Support
The traditional way to help a grieving person or family is to bring food. Now, I’m not normally one for doing something just because it’s tradition, but this is a good one. Grief exhausts us, it impairs our memory and decision-making, and makes the simplest tasks seem overwhelming. Offering tangible support – such as bringing food, mowing their yard or shoveling the sidewalks, cleaning their house, or walking their dog- is a great way to help your loved one reserve their energy for grieving and healing.
Because grief is often overwhelming and can impair decision-making abilities, it is best to offer specific support. Rather than saying, “Let me know how I can help,” say something like “Let me take care of your yard for a few weeks so you can rest.”
This is a great support to offer to all who are grieving – not just those whose loved one has died (though this is often the time we think of to do this). Give this support to someone experiencing a divorce, the loss of a job, a change in physical ability or any other time of grief.
2. Share your memories
Often when someone experiences a great loss, we tend to try to avoid talking about what was lost. Many times this contributes to the grieving person’s feelings of isolation. Share your memories of the person who died, the trips you took as couples before the marriage soured, all the times their dog chased your cat, or the times you shared at a job. Many times the griever wants to talk about these things but the people around them avoid to topic for fear of causing the griever pain. The pain is already there, not bringing it up won’t make it disappear.
However, other people will not want to talk about what was lost, at least not at first. In this case, it is best to respect their wishes and leave the subject alone for a while.
3. Listen without judgement (or advice)
Let your loved one talk about whatever they are feeling or thinking without imposing your thoughts or feelings about their process. It’s hard sometimes (I struggle with this quite a bit) not to tell them how we think they should handle something or think about something. Grief is a very individual process, theirs may not be the same as ours and it’s important to trust our loved ones to know what they need.
Go ahead and give them your thoughts and suggestions, if they ask. Otherwise, respect their process and trust that they know what is best for them.
4. Give them time
Grief takes time (not just time, but time) to heal. If the loss was particularly significant or life-altering, this healing can take years. It may take a very long time for your loved one to “return to normal” again or to return to the person you remember them to be. And they may never be that person again (in fact, chances are they won’t). Try to be patient as your loved one heals and tries to find his or her balance again.
5. Take care of yourself
We rarely grieve in isolation. We are often trying to support others in their grief in addition to experiencing our own. It’s important to keep in mind that we need to take care of ourselves and our grief before we have anything to give to others. It’s like the oxygen on an airplane example. There is a reason they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to assist others if a plane loses pressure. If you try to put the oxygen mask on someone else before putting on your own, you might just end up costing both your lives. Put your oxygen mask on first, then you will have the strength and ability to help your loved ones.