Managing day-to-day life can be enough of a struggle, but when you throw a death into the mix, suddenly life can turn chaotic and unmanageable. One of the biggest struggles I come across when working with grieving individuals is finding enough social support.
In so many cases, reaching out for support just may not be a viable option. They may be too clouded in their grief to even know what or how to ask for help. Maybe you know someone and are confused about how to help them.
What can you do to support a grieving friend? Here are 3 simple tips:
Offer specific support
What’s the #1 support my grieving clients wish for? Help with basic chores and responsibilities! This may not be true for everyone, but it’s something that’s come up again and again. Many are too depressed to even think about getting any work done, let alone chores. Dishes and laundry remain dirty, floors not swept, and not a home cooked meal in sight. These are the places they could really use some extra support.
One thing to keep in mind when offering is to be specific. When asked, “What do you need?”, many people are conditioned to say nothing, I’m good. We don’t want to burden others or be a pain in the ass. Or they may truly not know what they need! If every time you ask your friend if they need anything and they say no, it’s time to change the question.
Instead of “Do you need anything?” try “I’m making [dish], when will you be home so I can drop it off?” or “What’s a household chore you need off your plate?” This subtle shift into offering specific support can make a huge difference.
Continue that support, even if you’re unsure they still need it
Another thing I hear often is that it feels like there’s an acceptable window of time we’re allowed to be sad. People wish them well, bring food, and offer support for a limited amount of time, but once that window passes, it’s like they’re supposed to go back to normal regardless of whether or not they’re ready. Many feel pressured to move on, so they stop asking for help. Deep down, they still need and want support. They wish someone would just ask them how they’re doing or offer to help in some way.
Have you ever felt left out or forgotten? Think about how lonely that felt. Imagine suffering a terrible loss and wondering whether everyone has forgotten or cares. Sometimes there’s nothing better than knowing someone is thinking of you.
Make a point to check in with them periodically, long after you think they need it. I’ve never once heard someone say they were annoyed that a friend asked how they are feeling and if they needed extra support.
Here’s a tip: Ask “How are you today?” instead of “How are you?” The latter can feel like a pleasantry rather than real check-in or invitation to share.
Say anything, even when you don’t know what to say
We don’t always know what to say, even during the best of circumstances. But there are ways to let your friend know that they and the deceased are on your mind. I often hear from clients that they don’t want their loved one to be forgotten and they don’t always want to be the one to bring them up.
Did you know the deceased? It’s OK to say you miss them. Want to share a funny or happy memory? Try saying something like, “I have a funny/happy/silly memory of [name], let me know if you’d like to hear it.” They’ll either say they’re not quite ready or they’ll say yes, they want to hear it. Either way, you’ve let them know it’s on your mind and your friend may feel less alone in their grief.
If you’ve got nothing concrete to share, try something like “Even though I don’t know what to say, I want you to know I’m thinking of you both and am here for support.” Something as simple as this can be very therapeutic.
It’s easy to worry about bringing up a lost loved one because we’re afraid of opening a wound or stirring the pot. But know this: the griever is already sad! You mentioning you’re thinking of them will not make them more sad, it can actually be a great source of comfort.
I really like this sentiment from The Art of Comforting: Grievers don’t feel worse when someone reaches out the wrong way, they feel worse when someone doesn’t reach out at all.
Another thing I see regularly is how hard it can be to advocate for ourselves. Sometimes we need some extra help from our friends. If you see your friend struggling and wonder if they could benefit from talking to a professional, I offer a free 20-minute phone consultation.