When a loved one is grieving, it can be difficult to know what to do or say to help them. One thing to remember is that everyone deals with grief differently, so when someone struggles with often painful and intense emotions, what they need from their loved ones may change on a daily basis. It’s also worth noting that there can sometimes be a delay in processing grief, so they may need support in months and years to come too.
It’s understandable to feel concerned about intruding or saying ‘the wrong thing’, especially at a time when your loved one needs your love and support the most. However, try to remember that all they really need to know is that you’re there for them and making your presence known will mean more than you’ll ever know.
To offer some reassurance in reaching out to a person that’s grieving, we have put together a step-by-step guide on how to support a grieving loved one, someone struggling with bereavement, and what to do in the following days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead.
In the first few days
After finding out a loved one has lost someone they love, get in touch with them within the first few days to let them know you’re there to support them in any way that you can. Carefully think about the words you use. Acknowledge the bereavement, say you’re sorry, offer practical assistance, tell them there’s no need to reply (they are likely to be inundated with messages of condolence), and explain that you’re there for them whenever they need you.
Following this first point of contact, you could then send a personal card and/or flowers to again make it known that you’re thinking of them and are there to support them when needed.
When your loved one is ready for your support
At some point, your loved one will be in touch. As grief is very individual, it’s difficult to know exactly when this will be. However, when they’re open to support, it’s important to focus on listening to them. Listen to how they feel. Listen to every story they want to tell you and offer memories you may personally have of the deceased. You may feel like talking about their loved one will be too painful for them; however, some people grieving actually find it comforting to talk about the person they’ve lost and the moments they shared together. It’s important to be patient for them to open up, though, as while some bereaved people are happy to share, it may take others a little longer before they feel ready to do so.
Leading up to the funeral
Whilst funerals can provide the opportunity to say final goodbyes; they can be extremely emotional and upsetting for many. Offering your emotional and practical help and support leading up to the funeral can be really welcomed. If you didn’t know the deceased, it may be good to see whether your loved one would like you to attend the funeral for support. However, if you don’t end up attending the funeral, sending a message the day before or the following day is a good way to show you care.
In the following weeks
Just because the funeral is over and the deceased has been laid to rest, it doesn’t mean your loved one needs your support any less. In fact, this is the time that your loved one can find it even more difficult. The grieving process doesn’t just end, and with no longer having the funeral to focus their energy on, they could find themselves really struggling to move forward.
Do not assume that your loved one is ok because they appear to be fine and functioning ok; they could be really suffering without you realising. Please keep checking in on them, and be sure to invite them to do things with you. Even if you keep getting declined, it’s important to keep inviting them anyway, as one day they may just be ready to say ‘yes’. People may turn down invitations because they are just too overwhelmed with emotions to face socialising, but simply being asked will mean a great deal to them.
In the months ahead
After the initial shock of their loss has gone, your support will be even more valuable. Keep writing messages, calling on the phone and, if you can, dropping by in person. Make a note of important dates, such as birthdays, family milestones etc. and reach out during these times when your loved one will be finding things particularly hard.
It’s also a really good idea to look out for warning signs that your loved one may have depression. Grief can cause people to feel disconnected and depressed. However, if symptoms worsen, then they may have clinical depression, in which case you should encourage them to reach out for extra help from their GP, a local bereavement group or joining an online bereavement community. AtaLoss provides a service called ‘The Bereavement Journey’, which helps survivors work through their grief over a six-week online and in-person course. More information about this can be found here.
In the years to come
Over time, dealing with a loss becomes easier to deal with for most people. However, it’s worth noting that although your loved one may seem to be doing well, they may be triggered at any point and be consumed with emotion and sadness. Letting them know they can always come to you when they feel this way provides them with an ongoing shoulder to lean on, relieving the pressure to move on by a set time.
There is no right way to grieve, and acknowledging and understanding this from the onset, whilst simultaneously being on-hand for emotional and practical support, offers your loved one the best help possible when dealing with a bereavement.