It can be difficult to know how to help someone through grief. Knowing how to comfort someone grieving does not always come naturally. The process of helping a friend through grief can require you to learn new skills and strategies.
It is hard to watch a loved one grapple with the sadness of loss. Our experienced pastoral care staff have compiled these practical ideas for you to try as you do your best to support someone who is grieving.
When you spend time with a person who is grieving it is important to be flexible and respond to their needs. You might have your own ideas about how to ‘fix’ their sadness, but it is often more helpful if you can take a step back and let the bereaved set the pace for your interactions.
Try to listen more than you talk. Active listening can be a supportive strategy for holding a therapeutic conversation about grief. Rather than adding to what your friend is saying, try to repeat back to them the key points they have made. The goal of active listening is to demonstrate to your loved one that you have heard and understood the thoughts they are expressing.
The nature of the relationship you share with the bereaved doesn’t have to be altered by grief. Just be yourself. It is unlikely that your friend needs you to suddenly become formal and reserved when you visit. You can be respectful and sensitive, and be guided by the needs of the bereaved, but still, offer the character and company they are used to enjoying.
The phrase ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’, is genuine and well-intended. But the reality is that people seldom ask for help, even when they really need it. Don’t wait to be asked. Think about the practical assistance you can offer to your friend. Do the grocery shopping, cook a meal, mow the lawn, walk the dog, mind the children or do the laundry. Being practical is an effective strategy for helping a friend through grief.
Your loved one is likely to need you in different ways at different stages of the grief journey. Be consistent in your approach to helping a friend through grief. Don’t assume their sense of loss has diminished, even after some months have passed. Ask how they are feeling, even when they appear to be fine. Remember significant occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, to show consistent care during the grief journey of your loved one.
Remember to speak the name of the loved one who has passed to those you are supporting. A fear for some who are bereaved is that their deceased loved one will be forgotten. Speaking their name is a small gesture to keep in mind while someone is going through the grief journey, as it acknowledges that they will not be forgotten. This makes way for the bereaved to mourn free of the fear of losing their memories.
Everyone responds differently to grief and sadness manifests in different ways for everyone. You know your loved one best. It is normal for a bereaved person to experience high levels of exhaustion and low levels of mood. Be observant. If your loved one becomes overwhelmed with sadness, or the signs of low mood are lingering, it could be possible that they are experiencing depression.
Grief and depression are different, but they can appear similar. Grief tends to decrease over time and can occur in waves. Depression tends to be more persistent and all-consuming. If you are unsure about whether your loved one is experiencing depression, the resources on the Beyond Blue website provide helpful suggestions and advice.
As far as possible, be prepared in your understanding of the grief likely to be associated with your loved one’s situation. You can prepare yourself by reading about different experiences of grief including the specifics of how to understand children’s grief, grieving for a baby or grieving the loss of a spouse.
There are resources available for you to prepare yourself to support others on the Coping with Grief pages of our website. This includes our free, downloadable brochures on The Grief Journey and Understanding Children’s Grief.
When you put your loved one first, by being present, loving and supportive, you can provide comfort through their grief. Mood swings can be part of the grief journey, but don’t be afraid to seek advice from a professional if your observations lead you to believe your loved one is experiencing more than grief.