These past few weeks have been a bit hard for my family and a few of my friends. And many of us are experiencing that awful emotion called grief. I know I am. Recently, my sister and I received the news of a close, childhood friend passing away. We didn’t even know she was sick. Another friend found out she has skin cancer, and someone else had to put three of her fur babies (pets) down all within the span of a month. And let us not forget those people we don’t know who are grieving as well. For instance, the accident along I-70, which took the lives of two children and severely injured their mom and sibling. Or Senator John McCain (AZ), who just found out that he has a very aggressive brain tumor.
It’s tragic and mind-numbing; but, unfortunately, tragedy will strike each of us in one way or another in time. We may be aware it’s coming or it may smack us in the face. Either way, we will grieve. And though tragedy and sadness touches everyone, most people are very uncomfortable around grieving people and can often say the wrong things, unintentionally.
Therefore, to ensure that you are not someone who falls into that category, here are some do’s and don’ts to help loved ones through their grief:
- If you knew about the specific tragedy, DO let your friend/family member know that if they want to talk about it, you are there to listen.
- If you don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, a hug can speak volumes and show that you care. I, personally, would always notice when people would reach in to hug me and hold on to me for a moment longer.
- DO be honest in what you say. For example, I always appreciated it when people would say something similar to “I have never experienced what you are going through, but I am very sorry that this has happened.” By acknowledging that you have never been through something like this, you are showing that you care but may not know exactly what you should do.
- DO share your personal story(s) of handling grief if you are able to talk about. I find comfort in someone that shares a personal sadness with me. It makes me feel less alone in my grief.
- DO inquire how other family members are handling their grief.
- DO try to understand if the individual needs some space or turns down events. There is no time limit on grieving – everyone handles their grief differently and the amount of time it takes for them to work through their grief will never be exactly the same.
- DO offer support in the way of cooking meals, assisting with work, helping with children or in other ways that may ease their burden.
- Do offer your favorite memory of their loved one.
- DON’T ignore a person’s grief. When you do this, you are silently saying you don’t think their grief is real or justifiable.
- DON’T just say “I’m sorry.” Terms such as “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry for your loss” have been overused so much now, that people tend to not hear those words as comforting. They are staple sentences meant to gloss over grief. Instead, if you don’t know what to say, try saying something along the lines of “I don’t know what you are going through, but I’m here for you if you need me” or “I can’t imagine the suffering you are going through.” By saying these things, you are acknowledging the person’s grief and not shying away from it.
- DON’T assume that your friend/family member has already worked through most of their grief because of a long-term sickness.
- DON’T push people to get out and about immediately. If they need to stay in their pajamas and hide out for a while, your role is to allow them to do this without making them feel guilty. Some people will be back at work the next day after tragedy strikes and others may need extra time off. Everyone’s coping mechanisms are different. Allow for these differences.
- DON’T think that a person should get over their grief by any certain time. There is no time limit on grieving.
- DON’T be afraid if the person you are speaking with cries. Many people are uncomfortable when another person cries in front of them. Try to stay focused on the individual and realize that they trust you enough to show you their grief.
- DON’T take it personally if your friend/family member does not want to open up about their feelings. Some people may not want to discuss it at all, in an effort to move past their grief.
- DON’T be surprised if the person who is grieving has emotions that change drastically from day to day. Somedays you wake up with more strength than others.
I know there are many other Do’s and Don’ts regarding the gentle handling of someone who is grieving which I’ve missed or haven’t even thought of. I’d love to hear what your best advice to friends and family would be on how to handle grief, if you would like to share.
For me, I often have wanted to tell my friends or anyone who tried to offer words of advice on how I should have gotten past the hurt and grief to please not “fix me.” Be with me, love me, check in on me, but please, please do not tell me what I should or should not be doing to get through my grief. There is no embarrassment or shame in grief, so sit with me while I am in pain and do not tell me you understand. Show me. Most of all support me when I am I ready to get back up on my feet.
For more advice on what to say or not say to someone who is grieving, please visit http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5868492 and https://grief.com/10-best-worst-things-to-say-to-someone-in-grief/.