Coaching supporters

Wait a minute. I’m already dealing with grief. I shouldn’t have to worry about helping others support me. They should just do it.

True, but let’s think about our own grief experience. We often don’t know what we need. Even if we do, it can feel awkward asking for it.

Sometimes we don’t know until someone gets it right (or wrong). It’s the same for the people trying to support us. They won’t intuitively know what we need at different points in our grief—especially because our grief changes over time.

Strategies that can help us get the best support possible:

Write a grief letter

A grief letter shares a little bit about where you are in your grief. It’s an opportunity for you to express the kinds of support you would appreciate (or not appreciate) at this time. Topics to consider are:

  • Where I am now
  • What you can do to help
  • Things we can do together
  • What I am doing to help myself
  • If applicable, express appreciation for the help you've already been offered/received

You decide what you write and how much you share. You decide who gets to read it. Even if it’s never shared, the exercise of writing a grief letter can help us set aside time to really think about where we are and what we need.

Grief doesn’t end, but it does change. Consider updating your grief letter as your needs change.

Choose an advocate

Having an advocate can take the pressure to respond to each and every person off of you. It can be helpful to have one person who is able to help educate and organize other supporters. This way, you have one person to respond to, and you have someone to direct people towards. Maybe your advocate is the one person you allow to read your grief letter.

Give honest feedback

Grief support is hard to get right. If someone is doing or saying something hurtful, or just not helpful, it’s ok to tell them. Be honest. Acknowledge their intention, but tell them how it made you feel. Try to be gentle, but direct. Start by letting them know you are having this conversation because you care:

  • “I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. Because I value our relationship, I wanted to talk with you about____________.”

You can also try to steer them towards what would have been more helpful. Keep it simple:

  • “I know you mean well when you say/do ____________, but it actually makes me feel ___________.”
  • “I appreciate the offer to ___________, but what would really be helpful right now is __________.”

Positive reinforcement

If someone says or does something that feels good to you, let them know. Chances are, your people have no idea if what they are doing is helpful. They might not realize what a big difference their small gestures make. If they don’t think they are doing any good, they might give up trying. Even the smallest bit of positive reinforcement can make a huge difference—and might help you continue to get the support you need. You don’t have to throw them a parade, try a simple acknowledgement:

  • “That was exactly what I needed today.”
  • “That was helpful, thank you.”

I feel like, you know, even if they say something that isn’t helpful, I think it just depends on how they say it. Maybe they don’t know what to say and it just comes to mind first thing.

Just n-, I don’t feel like there’s a need to angry over it, unless it’s condescending or something. Just be like, you know, it’ll be a little painful, but be like, “Thanks” you know? Or just kind of nod, or (shrugs).

I think the intention sometimes can outweigh their fumble.

I think if you can sense their intention is to help you, even if they say something that’s kind of, you know, I think you can get past that and be like, “Okay. Thanks anyway.”

I mean, the last thing I want them to do is feel bad for making me feel bad. That won’t help much. It can be frustrating though, but I think just be patient. Sometimes you have to be patient with the people trying to help you, because they don’t know. And because they don’t know, can’t expect them to know. I think it’s just about mutual respect.