Grief Support 101: Tips from a Psychologist

Angel of GriefI do a lot of grief support in my practice.  Sometimes that includes helping clients who are grieving traditionally recognized losses, like the death of a loved one.  Sometimes it includes helping clients deal with the less recognized griefs: grief over changes in health, grief over lost independence, grief over life stage changes, and so much more.  In the office, we talk about straightforward grief and complicated grief.  We talk about visible grief and invisible grief.  And in the course of helping my clients, there are some things that I routinely hear about the support they wish they were getting.

Today, I’m going to share some of the things that I hear most often from clients coping with grief.  Please know that none of these suggestions is intended as a prescription.  Each person will grieve differently, and their grief will require unique support.  These tips are a compilation of more than ten years of working with grieving clients.

Grief Support “Don’ts”

  1. Don’t ignore a grieving person. So often clients come in and tell me that they feel invisible.  I think this may be because so many people are unsure what to say or do.  So they opt for doing nothing.  This just makes the person grieving feel more isolated.
  2. Don’t offer feedback such as “everything happens for a reason,” or “your loved one is in a better place” unless the person grieving has indicated that those statements are consistent with their beliefs.  What I hear in my office are things like, “If my child died for a reason, then the universe is pretty f*cked up,” and “I don’t want them to be in a better place, I want them to be with us.”  Even if these statements are a genuine reflection of your beliefs, if they aren’t consistent with the beliefs of the person grieving, than they can sound like insincere platitudes.
  3. Don’t make non-specific offers of help, such as “call if you need anything.”  Especially in early grief, people are often coping with a mountain of decisions to make.  Add in the roller coaster emotions of grief, and asking them to ask for help is likely to mean that they just struggle through on their own.
  4. Don’t put your own timetable on the grief of others.  Grief is a unique and personal experience.  Your own grief experiences may have been longer or shorter than those of your friends and family.
  5. Don’t judge someone else’s grief process.  Some people grieve very visibly, and others grieve more privately.  Just because you don’t see tears doesn’t mean that someone isn’t grieving intensely.

Grief Support “Dos”

  1. Do connect with those who are grieving.  It is fine to just say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I’m not even sure what to say right now.”  That opens up communication and reduces isolation.
  2. Do offer concrete types of help.  “Can I bring you a meal next week?” “Do you want company for a while?” “Can I run some errands for you?”  “Do you need a coffee break?”
  3. Do check in after the first few weeks.  Most people receive the bulk of their grief support within the first two weeks following a loss.  Their grief doesn’t end after that two week period, and neither does their need for caring and support.  You can make a huge difference by reaching out.
  4. Do follow-up support even in the absence of “important dates.”  Many clients talk about getting phone calls or texts on anniversary dates, which they appreciate.  But that also highlights all the days in between anniversaries, where the support is less present.  A phone call on a random Wednesday may feel even more supportive than recognizing a holiday or anniversary.
  5. Do encourage adequate support.  Sometimes, if grief is complicated or persistent, support groups or therapy can be an important source of help.  Those who are grieving sometimes need support and encouragement to connect with these resources.

Do you have more grief support suggestions?  Please share in the comments.

 

Image Credit: “Angel of Grief” photo by tkksummers via Flickr under Creative Commons License

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