How to be there for someone who is grieving
I have a friend who asked me to write about how to react (and how not to react) when someone is grieving.
This friend wants others to know that, sometimes, a person who is grieving isn't ready to talk about it. Sometimes, letting someone be alone is the best support you can give. And sometimes, calling to ask for a play-by-play of the tragedy or texting "Are you okay" until the person responds doesn't help. Sometimes, in fact, it does the opposite.
I'm guilty of being the person who wants to help. If something bad happens to someone and they don't respond to my text messages, I'm guilty of freaking out, thinking the worst possible outcome. "They're dead in a ditch somewhere!" or "Oh my god. They're mad at me! I said the wrong thing!"
Once, my friend was grieving because her grandmother only had a few days left to live. And, being that all four of my grandparents have died, I tried relating my own experience to hers and telling her that I understood what she was going through.
But she got mad at me. She didn't want me to tell her I understood. All she wanted, at that moment, was for someone to listen.
And I felt bad because my feelings were hurt.
But that's the thing -- when someone else is grieving and is going through a struggle -- it's not about YOU! It's THEIR feelings that matter.
Different people grieve in different ways. And they will probably act differently than they would in normal, everyday circumstances. They may have a lot of people asking to help, and they may feel like they're living in a fish bowl. So, don't take offense if they don't want your help, or don't want to talk about it. They are dealing with a loss and, no offense, but trying to make you feel better about yourself is the LAST thing on their minds.
So, what do you do when someone you care about is grieving?
How about this: Ask them what they need from you.
And honor their response. Maybe it's, "Can you call and talk" or "Can you come to the funeral" or "Can you bring me chocolate?" or "Can you just hug me?" But if they say, "Can I have space" or if they don't respond at all, don't just show up at their house or keeping texting, "Are you sure you're okay?" At this moment, just give them what they asked for.
Here are some more tips by licensed counselor Megan Devine in an article on Huffington Post:
Don't tell your own stories, like I did. And don't say, "Everything will be okay in the end" or "He or she is in a better place." These statements minimize their feelings of loss. Instead, just say, "I love you, and I'm here for you."
2. Don't try to fix the unfixable.
4. And when you are doing these things, don't expect to be appreciated or praised. In this time of their life, they are unable to be there for this part of your relationship. Don't take it personally or take it out on them. Instead, you need to find another person to lean on.
5. Listen more than you talk.
6. If someone asks how your friend is doing, educate but be subtle. Don't give details that aren't yours to give. Devine writes, "You can normalize grief with responses like, 'She has better moments and worse moments and will for quite some time. An intense loss changes every detail of your life.'"
7. Check in weeks or months later. Your friend may be inundated with support right away and so they don't need your help right now. But, remember to check in later because grieving doesn't just last a couple days. It's a slow process.
"Offer your help, but don't force it," editor Laura McMullen writes in an article on US News.
"He may be fielding back-to-back-to-back phone calls and visitors at the exact time he's trying to make sense of a world that's likely turned upside down. Let him take a breather and remember that everyone grieves differently."
To educate yourself on the grieving process, visit helpguide.org.