It’s OK if you don’t know how to do this. No one does.
This is hard. When someone you care about is grieving, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. Don’t let discomfort prevent you from reaching out. This is awkward for them, too.
It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. Reach out anyway.
Now, more than ever, your loved one needs your support. You don’t need to have any answers or give any advice. Your goal is NOT to make things better; it’s to support them in their pain. The most important thing you can do is to simply reach out. Show up. Just be there.
I think the hardest thing for support people to do and maybe the most important thing for support people to do is to be awkward.
It’s ok to show up to your friend or your family member and say, “I have no idea what I’m doing, and I love you enough to look like a fool and ask dumb questions and to feel stupid or weird. I’m willing to feel all of those things because what’s most important to me is you feel cared for.”
So, if you are uncomfortable; be uncomfortable. Name it, right?
What better demonstration of love and care is there for somebody to say, “I am so uncomfortable with this right now and I’m willing to feel uncomfortable so that you feel heard?”
What is your intention?
Most of us have truly good intentions and want to help our grieving person in any way we can. Before you do, make sure your support for them doesn’t have anything to do with your own needs. (Your need to feel needed, your desire to be their savior, your need to discuss your own experience with grief, etc.)
Offering support to someone deep in grief needs to be all about them. There might be an appropriate time for you to share your own story later. For now, show up for them.
Check your expectations
Do you have expectations for how your person “should” be acting/feeling right now? We all do! Sometimes we have expectations that we don’t even realize.
|It’s been six weeks/months since the death, they should be ok by now.
|Grief has no timeline - keep checking in with them long after the death.
|I told them to let me know if they need anything and they haven’t reached out, so I assume they’re fine.
|They might not know what they need, or feel uncomfortable asking for it - offer something concrete.
|I went through something similar, so what I did to feel better should also work for them.
|No two grief experiences are the same - refrain from offering advice, or worse - judgment.
|I saw them smiling and laughing the other day, so they must be over it. If I ask them how they’re doing, I’ll just remind them of their loss.
|You will never be reminding someone of their loss - you’ll be reminding them that you haven’t forgotten their loss.
Practice, practice, practice
I really think about these interpersonal skills as like the 'Fire Drill of Love.' Why do we practice fire drills? We practice fire drills so that, in the event of an emergency, the skills we need are not new. In the event of an emergency, we’re already familiar with the territory. We already know where our exits are we already know to reach for our friends we already know what to do in that situation, even if we’ve never been there. If we only talk about these skills when we have to, we’re going to feel really weird when we pull them out to use them.
So, how do you build community—how do you build relationships that will be there for you when life goes sideways? You work on them before life goes sideways. You get in the habit of checking your impulse to cheer somebody up or gloss over their hard morning because they overslept and their car wouldn't start and now the line is too long at the coffee shop and they're going to be late for work. Pay attention to how you respond to that.
How you respond on those daily everyday little moments of pain is going to be how you respond when life goes sideways. If you want to be better at showing up for yourself and others when things completely fall apart, then you do it when life is just normally bad.