We define and we dissect the grieving process: first, the grieving individual will experience denial, followed by anger; then bargaining and a bout of depression; and lastly, acceptance. Once they’ve progressed through these five stages they’ll be A-Okay, good to go—right? Wrong. Grief can’t be so simply defined or explained by a number of mere phases.
Instead, it is a more complicated and personal development process, which varies from person-to-person. So, while your loved one may very well move through the defined stages above, which were popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, chances are their grieving process will be unpredictable, even messy. However, one thing is for certain: they need your love and support. Here are five professional tips for helping a grieving person or loved one during this difficult time:
1) Be present and aware.
Nick Arquette, Founder and CEO of Walk With Sally—a nonprofit dedicated to providing support services to children who have lost a parent to cancer or currently have a parent who is battle cancer—says the key is to simply be there for your grieving loved one. “During a time of grief, the best way to help a friend or loved one is really just to be present and acknowledge that they may need a little extra support right now. When we say things like, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ we leave the burden on the friend who is grieving. Try saying things like, ‘Can I pick the kids up from school for you today? I’m happy to take them to the park,’ or, ‘I’m making dinner tonight for you and the family, would you like some lasagna?’ By offering specific ways to help, your friend is more likely to accept, rather than placing the burden of reaching out on them. Allow some time and space for your friend to grieve on their own terms by specifically taking everyday obstacles off of their plate.”
2) Avoid using clichés and all-purpose statements.
“Acknowledge his or her experience via resisting using platitudes or all-purpose statements to convey concern,” Keisha Wells, Licensed Professional Counselor, advises. “In the absence of knowing how to provide compassion, ineffective and sometimes hurtful statements are exchanged: Time heals all wounds. You’ll have another pet soon. God needed another angel. He’s in a better place now. Such phrases, though not intended to offend, can be scathing to an individual reeling from and trying to make sense of the death of their pet, child, parent, friend, or spouse. Instead, statements such as ‘I support you,’ ‘I care for you,’ and ‘I’m available,’ convey genuine and meaningful support.”
3) Recognize that everyone’s grief is different.
Debbie Rambis, Executive Director at The Compassionate Friends—a nonprofit, which provides grieving mothers and fathers free support—says you must realize and consider that everyone’s grief is different. “Respect that everyone’s grief is different, and there is absolutely no prescribed timeframe for grieving,” she says. “Understand that when you mention a family’s deceased child’s name, it is music to their family’s ears. Tell a story or share a memory about the child with the family. There is no need to say anything. There is only a need for friends and family to be there to offer a hug or to wipe a tear. Have a surprise dinner delivered. Offer to run errands such as picking up the mail, going to the cleaners, or doing some grocery shopping.”
4) Provide consistent support.
Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Grief Specialist Denesha Chambers’ tip is to be consistently supportive of your grieving loved one, as the grieving process can last for a long time to come: “Grief will last longer than the time of gaining knowledge of the death and the memorial service a week or so later. Try to continue to provide support over time. A simple thinking-of-you call, text, or card every so often can make their day. In fact, the average person will experience triggers to their grief, unexpectedly even, for at least one to two years after the loss. To receive occasional, yet ongoing support over that time is very supportive.”
5) Show them their life is still worth living.
Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, says it’s important to restore your loved one’s hope for the future—as a difficult loss can leave anyone feeling hopeless, worthless, or even betrayed: “When someone leaves us behind, there is often a sense of loss and in some cases anger or senses of betrayal. You should be aware that your loved one is going through an existential crises of some kind, even if those are not the words they would choose to describe it. You need to be there as an individual and a partner/loved one, and conduct yourself in a way which shows—without necessarily saying it in words—just how much possibility and potential there is to life, that it is a life worth living, and that you should be living it to the best of your ability.”