Supporting someone who’s going through grief is hard. In fact, let me just come right out and say this, in many ways it can feel like an impossible task. You’re desperate to help them, provide practical support, to be there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on, maybe cook meals or bring some lunch to their desk, to say the right thing.
You feel powerless in the face of their grief, frustrated by the knowledge that there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome, and horribly nervous about doing or saying the wrong thing.
I don’t think the perilous position of those endeavouring to offer compassionate support for someone who’s grieving is acknowledged or addressed nearly enough. It’s a scary, vulnerable place to be, and all too easy to feel paralysed by fear of getting it wrong.
I know it’s not likely that you’re going to be feeling sorry for yourself – they’re the one who’s grieving after all – but believe me, I’ve talked to enough people in your shoes to know that navigating the support role can be/feel tough.
In fact, my own research indicates how hard it is to do the ‘right thing’ by the bereaved. In our Coping With Loss online community we often talk about what friends and family can do to help. And the truth is that what works for one person can really irk another. Our preliminary research findings back this up.
My advice is simple, and essentially boils down to this: instead of being a mind reader, ask them what they need. Mind-reading is a well-known psychological thinking trap, encouraging us to imagine we know what others want/think/feel when, in fact, our own reading of the situation isn’t accurate at all. Similarly, gently suggest to them that you’re not a mind-reader either, that you can only truly help if they tell you what they need.
So, step one is to pluck up the courage to ask them what it is they want from you. Explain that you genuinely want to help, but don’t want to get it wrong, and ask them any of the following:
Other tips our bereaved clients have shared with us are:
If someone you know is going through grief, and you're looking to offer even more help and support, consider gifting them our Facing The Day course.
You will learn practical tools and techniques to ensure you are as empowered and prepared as possible to get your life back on track, and work towards a greater sense of control and calm.