How to help someone who is grieving.
Grieving is painful and isolating. Grieving during a pandemic can feel downright cruel. The typical ways your friends and family would show up for you may not be safe or available, leaving you more isolated in your loss. Friends and family can feel lost and uncertain about how to help someone who is grieving, especially now.
Grievers need grievers. Grievers need companions. We were not designed to process the enormity of human loss alone. This is one of the functions of rituals like shiva and funerals – to join people together, remembering the person lost and leaning on one another to get by. Without these rituals, without the pre-covid face-to-face contact and comfort, grievers are even more vulnerable and in need of ongoing support.
In my own experiences, and those of people I’ve witnessed, well-meaning people have fumbled to be supportive in times of grief. Admittedly I was also one of those people before I went through my own loss. I wanted to make it better for people grieving, take away their pain. That right there was a set up for failure. You can’t make someone’s grief better. You can’t take away their pain. But you can join them in it. You can walk with them in it - literally or figuratively. Comments like “everything happens for a reason” or “at least he/she isn’t suffering any more” don’t take away a person’s pain. It only shows them that you can’t tolerate their feelings and can’t bear to see or hear their pain.
Grief, like love, is infinite. It has no timeline. It has no end date. We would never rush or diminish love. Similarly, we can’t expedite or minimize grief. Grief evolves and changes over time. Expecting it to go away or encouraging someone to “move on” denies the very nature of grief. It’s like asking a bird not to tweet, a flower not to bloom, or a cloud not to rain.
Even in this challenging time, we can show up for others who are enduring loss. In the words of Brene Brown: "Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." It is those connections that carry us lovingly in times of unbearable grief. In my times of loss, I’ve been so fortunate and grateful to be cared for. This is my attempt to pay it forward.
To support someone who is grieving:
Listen, really listen
Check-in with texts or calls or cards but don’t put any pressure on a reply
Send a care package with items you find comforting and/or distracting when you are sad
Share a poem, song or piece of art you like or find soothing
If you know the person who died, share memories of him or her
Create a photo or video montage of the person who died
Put important dates in your calendar so you can be present for the griever around anniversaries – like birthdays, the anniversary of their death, etc. Know that often people have a hard time in the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary as much or even more than the day itself
Plant flowers or a tree in remembrance of the person lost
Donate to a charity in remembrance of the person lost
Help the person plan a virtual memorial with friends, family or colleagues
Remember that grief and positive feelings can coexist. Don’t be afraid to share humor, upbeat stories, or feel-good material, but also don’t be hurt if the timing isn’t just right for the person grieving to smile with you.