When a loved one is grieving, it can be challenging to navigate the best thing to say. In this article, we’ll discuss 10 ways you can show support to a loved one who lost someone or something close to them.
Grief looks different for everybody.
When we think of bereavement, it’s common to think of the death of a loved one, like a parent, sibling, spouse, or friend. However, there are many other ways in which people mourn. For example, the death of a family pet or a divorce/breakup can also cause someone to grieve.
Reactions to grieving also come in many different forms. Someone could be sad or depressed, whereas someone else might feel angry or resentful. The feelings and thoughts of someone going through this challenging time are unique to them and how they react. There is no wrong way to feel when grieving.
Sympathy vs. Empathy
Many people often want to show sympathy to a loved one who is in grief. You want them to know that you are sorry for their loss, and you understand universal feelings of sadness.
However, empathy is stronger than sympathy. Empathy is the act of listening to another person, putting yourself in their shoes, and understanding why they feel the way they do. It has little to do with your own perspective, but rather how you can learn to share feelings with a loved one in a situation that you have potentially never experienced before.
Remember that it is impossible to know exactly how your loved one is feeling even when showing sympathy and empathy. Using statements such as, “I understand exactly what you’re going through” can quickly come across as invalidating.
In short, sympathy is a feeling you share with someone, and empathy is the ability to understand why someone is feeling those emotions.
10 Ways to Show Support to Someone Who is Grieving
There is little you can say to take the pain they are feeling away when someone is grieving. So instead, offer to lend an ear and listen to them talk about their feelings if they want to. By showing empathy, your loved one will have the comfort of knowing that someone is listening and there for them.
Try reflective listening, where you repeat back in different wording what the person told you, to show that you were hearing what they said and you understood.
2. Show respect
As mentioned before, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Refrain from saying anything that would imply that they are grieving “wrong” or in a poor way. Respect that these feelings are individual and separate from how you might feel if you were in the same situation.
3. Avoid giving unsolicited advice.
Although the advice to someone who is grieving usually is well-intentioned, it can often come across as hurtful and invalidating to how they are presently dealing with the situation. Avoid this unless the person asks you to give them advice directly.
4. Be genuine
Regardless of what words you share with someone who is grieving, if you mean them from the heart, that is all that truly matters. By being genuine, even if the statement or advice was not helpful, they will know you care.
5. Check in on them
Even if your loved one is secluding themselves, isolating, or even staying social, it’s important to check in on them and let them know that you are there for them. Ask them if they need anything, such as a conversation, food, or even just to get out of the house. By letting someone know you’re available for them, they can feel cared for without you having to “say the right thing.”
NOTE: that this could be overwhelming especially if the grieving person does not know what they want. It can quickly create feelings of urgency like they need to figure out what they want. If you sense this to be true, it’s okay to ask less or ask more specific questions.
Your other option is to take the initiative to provide help. Sometimes even when asked, someone might feel bad or guilty accepting assistance. Never force a person to spend time with you, but if you want to do a nice gesture like making cookies or shoveling their sidewalks, sometimes it’s best to just do it.
6. Try not to get offended.
When someone is grieving, they may experience a lot of ups and downs as memories and emotions come and go. They might even appear upset, hostile, or angry. Whatever the case, it’s important to not take it personally and attack back. This is just a part of their healing process.
7. You don’t always need to put a positive spin on things.
When someone is going through the emotions of losing someone or something, the listening process can be negative and sad. This is okay. All of their feelings, both good and bad, are acceptable. However, avoid turning what they say into “Well, at least this happened,” or “I’m happy he’s no longer suffering.” This can quickly make the person not feel listened to, even if you have good intentions.
8. Avoid bringing up your experiences.
In situations where someone is grieving, that universal sadness may bring about memories you have of losing a loved one. However, repeatedly bringing up your experiences may cause the person to feel the need to console you instead.
9. Avoid pushing your faith.
If you are religious or spiritual, it is instinctive to want to say things like “You should pray,” or “this was part of God’s plan.” But for a loved one grieving who does not share the same beliefs, this can be offputting and potentially upsetting.
In these situations, it is likely that doing this can push the other person away, instead of bringing them closer. You can suggest to the person may be finding a community or outlet where they can be supported, but they ultimately have to make this decision for themselves.
10. Take into consideration their reaction to your support.
One thing that works for one may not work for another. Pay attention to how they respond to your support and adjust how you choose to continue being there for them afterward. If humor is something that they’d respond well to, crack a joke. If they need to be distracted and get out of the house, offer to plan something. If someone just needs a listening ear, listen.
It’s normal to want to do more and find new ways to support a loved one that is grieving. Know you are trying your best. By being genuine and listening, you can show them that you care. Pay attention to how they respond and what their specific needs are, and adjust how you support them accordingly.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and nothing you can say to take the pain away. Feeling associated with grief will go away over time, but the amount of time it takes is dependent on the person.
If you or a loved one is going through the grieving process and is looking for a counselor in Bloomsburg, PA, Columbia County, Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates is a team of compassionate and caring licensed professionals who want to help. Schedule an appointment today.
Looking for a counselor in Eastern Pennsylvania? Dr. John G Kuna and Associates also has 14 other convenient locations, spanning Lackawanna, Luzerne, Montour, Pike, Wyoming, Northampton, and Columbia counties.