How can I help? What should I say?
When someone you know loses a loved one, you want nothing more than to show you care. But all too often the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing leads to doing nothing at all.
The coronavirus pandemic has also presented new challenges for coping with death. Those who pass away from COVID-19 often do so without family members present. Traditional funeral plans may have to be altered. And those who lose loved ones to other causes may feel ignored because of the heavy public focus on the pandemic.
Here are a few simple things you can do when someone you care about is grieving.
Listen & Follow Their Lead
Focus on listening rather than coming up with the “perfect” thing to say. It’s more important to simply let the person know you’re there for them during their time of need.
Let them lead the conversation. Sometimes a grieving person will bring up lighthearted topics like sports or music, as a diversion from their sadness. When they are ready to do so, encourage them to talk about their emotions or share stories about their loved one.
It’s also perfectly okay if they don’t feel like talking at all. Don’t feel the need to break the silence. Just spending quiet time together may be the best way to show you care.
Remember That Everyone Grieves Differently
Grieving is a natural process for adjusting to a loss and is unique for each person.
Be patient, and allow the person to grieve on their own timetable. For some people, the grieving process takes a few weeks or months, while for others it may last a year or more.
There is also no single set of steps that everyone goes through on their path to healing. You may notice that the person feels upbeat and hopeful one day, and sad the next. This doesn’t mean they’ve experienced a setback. Shifting emotions are common, so continue offering support over time.
Offer Practical Help
Listen to find out what specific tasks the person may want help with. Some people may appreciate you bringing food, while others will prefer to continue cooking and shopping for themselves.
It’s best to volunteer for specific activities like picking up groceries, walking the dog or babysitting. A general statement of “let me know if I can do anything” often goes unanswered.
Know What Not to Say
Sometimes a well-intentioned statement may come across as hurtful to someone who is grieving.
Don’t say “I know how you feel” or offer unsolicited advice from your own experience with grief. As noted above, the grieving process differs for everyone, so their journey will not be the same as yours. Avoid trying to explain the loss — “It was God’s plan” — or put a positive spin on the situation — “At least he lived a long life.”
By the way, it’s okay to be honest and admit if you don’t know what to say. Let the person know you’re there to listen if they need someone to talk to. If they become more depressed or express suicidal thoughts, encourage them to seek out professional counseling to help them through their journey.
Crown Hospice provides bereavement support for families when a patient passes away. Services include free grief counseling for 13 months and access to community support groups. We hold a Celebration of Life service at the end of the year to commemorate patients who have passed away.
Please reach out to us to learn more about hospice care and bereavement services.