An empty bench in the grass facing blue sky.

How to Support Those Who Are Grieving Loss

Grief comes in all aspects of life under the title of loss. In this post, I am addressing those who want to be supportive and don’t know how.

Grief is an Expression of Love

There has been so much grief expressed just this weekend, let alone this past year, that I thought I would address it. There are things we have to comprehend before we even get there and one of the most important is that this is a nation of fixers and grief cannot be fixed – so don’t even go there.

I get a lot of these calls and the best way I can show how simple it is, is to list what not to do.

Most importantly, understand that people grieve in different ways and certainly in the case of shockingly unexpected death, we need to give people time. Here is what NOT to do.

  • Tell them they can phone you if they need anything. They won’t. Instead tell them you will stay in touch with them understanding they will decide to meet/answer the phone, depending on the day.
  • Do not ever tell them you know how they feel, unless you have been there. It is condescending.
  • Never tell them there is a reason for everything – there isn’t and they don’t want to hear it anyway because it doesn’t apply.
  • Tell them it gets easier – I was guilty of that in the early days. The Compassionate Friends taught me all about that. Such arrogance. Experience is a great teacher. I thought I understood the death of a loved one until it happened to me – a new awakening. This was different. I lost many people in the war. This is different, again.
  • Don’t tell them how lucky they were to have them in their lives, to know that kind of love. They already know that. The deeper the love, the deeper the pain. NEVER TELL THEM THEIR LOVED ONES ARE IN A BETTER PLACE or it’s God’s will. Really? That wouldn’t be my God.
  • Do not use the word closure. Only politicians use that when there has been a mass shooting and they say the healing has begun. Really? Maybe in a couple of years there might be a glimmer of relief – maybe not.

The greatest gift you can give is to listen. 90% of my life’s work is with grief, and listening because after all, when there are no words!

You could ask them if you could hug them and give them the freedom to refuse. Am I writing about helplessness? No. I am talking about powerlessness and that means learning your own boundaries as to what you can and can’t do. When I meet with bereaved parents I tell them there are two things I cannot do. I cannot bring their child back and I will not even try to take their pain away. That would be insulting.

I remember taking a lovely young woman to a Compassionate Friends meeting who had undergone a terrible still born birth, terrible because it never should have happened – a medical error. She had endured people saying to her, “You’re young. You’ll get pregnant again”, like her beautiful full term son meant nothing. I took her to a meeting at the Northeast Chapter. It was just before mother’s day and she was crying, “Am I a mother?”, she asked. There were about 40 people in that room and in one voice they all said, “Of course you’re a mother. You’ll always be a mother”. See what I mean? Keep it simple.

Grief is an expression of love. I would invite those of you who are grieving and reading this, to send anything to add in the comments below.  Anything about what not to do, or what not to say. Sometimes something as sweet as, “I don’t know how you feel but I am here,” does it. You can’t give what you don’t have.

For more, listen to Yvonne’s Podcast Season 3: Episode 1 Coping with the Sudden Loss of a Loved One: The Relationship Between Love and Grief

Adapted from a post Yvonne wrote in her Facebook page.

Photo by Alaeddin Hallak on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “How to Support Those Who Are Grieving Loss

  1. TRUTH!!!! As always, Yvonne, you speak to my soul. Thank you for being you!!! Much Love, Cathy

  2. Your higher power, whatever that may mean to you, is strong. If you’re mad as hell then yell, scream, curse your higher power. A higher power can take it! Your higher power has a big heart and will understand your pain so it’s OK to get mad! Much Love and Respect, Rev. Dan Newman

  3. Hello Yvonne thank you for your post. The most recent loss for me was of my beloved dog and sole companion whom i had with since she was a day old – 14yrs (rescued the mother too) What not to say – immediately start telling me about the loss of your pet or ask me if I’m getting another one. Give me an expensive ink drawing or a mug with a photo of the most intense photo of my dog and and become upset or offended when i cannot look at it.

Go ahead and talk to me.

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