7 DAYS OF HEALING : DAY 4
No other time of the year amplifies emotions more than during the holidays. A grieving person may feel pressure to fake happiness and show strength so their sadness doesn't weigh others down. Awstin Gregg, a licensed clinical social worker and chief executive officer at Connections Wellness Group, points out that its not grief that dampens the holiday spirit; our reactions to grief do. So, how do you aid someone grieving a deceased lover, friend, or relative when you don't know what to say or do? Below are a few do's and don'ts to consider when supporting the grieving that many get wrong.
The Do's: How to support
- Validate their feelings. - A simple acknowledgment of loss goes a long way. Offering them your sincerest condolences lets the mourner know that you empathize with them. You can't ease their pain or bring the deceased back, being sensitive to someone's grief is always appreciated.
- Be present. - Offer to sit with a grieving colleague, friend, or family member. Your actions speak louder than words ever will. Words won't always soothe, and the right words may be fleeting. Just being present is enough.
- Actively listen. - Everyone wants to feel seen, heard and understood. Unfortunately, most people listen to speak, not to understand. Active listening lets the other party express their thoughts and feelings uninterrupted. It opens up authentic dialogue and encourages genuine connection.
- Share memories. - Encourage them to share fond memories of the deceased. If you knew the deceased, reveal how they touched your life or tell a funny story about them. Shared moments are unsurprisingly comforting. Not only will it will bond you, it can improve your relationship with the grieving person.
- Offer practical help. - A common phrase to avoid asking is, 'What can I do to help?' Those grieving are dealing with many emotions and may not know what kind of help they need. It puts the burden on the grieving person to provide ways to be of assistance. A better solution is lighten their load wherever you can. Pick up everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, running errands, delivering a home cooked meal or picking the kids up from school are good ways to help.
- Check in regularly. - As the expressions of sympathy fade, so do the check-ins, thoughts, and prayers. The world returns to normal, but normalcy is no longer relative when grieving loved ones. While some reach acceptance much faster, others deal with ongoing extended grief. It may take more love and patience to help them move forward as they discover their new role or purpose in life.
The Don'ts: What NOT to say and do
- Avoid/Say nothing - When coping with grief, family and friends may withhold words of comfort out of fear of saying the wrong thing. Many don't know what to say to grieving individuals, so they default to avoidance. As well-intentioned as it may seem to spare feelings and prevent akwardness, not speaking up or reaching out can feel worse than misspeaking.
- Minimize feelings - Avoid phrases like "I know how you feel." "It's for the best." or "They're in a better place." While it may seem helpful, they are hardly comforting or validating. They can be received poorly and come off as insensitive. While empathy is possible, loss is not something you can truly understand until you have experienced it firsthand. Even still, no two people grieve alike. Opt to offer your condolences instead. Express that you can only imagine how they might feel and invite them to share their grief without interruption or judgement.
- Tell them to 'move on' - Grief brings a discomfort that is challenging for the grieving and those around them. There is an unspoken pressure to get over and move on to make others comfortable. The reality is grief doesn't have a timeline. Everyone adjusts at their own pace. To demonstrate your support, exercise patience. It's unrealistic to expect someone to cease grieving merely because we're ready for them to.
- Compare losses - While sharing your personal story is a natural way to show compassion, it is not always the best strategy. Keep in mind how chiming in with your story can be miscontrued. They could feel that you're infiltrating their grief and making it about yours. Comparisons can foster distrust and lead to the other person shutting down.
- Offer unsolicited advice - Most don't want to see their loved ones in pain. They will find any solutions they can to 'fix the problem,' but the last thing a grieving person wants is unsolicited advice. Grief exposes our vulnerability. Being emotionally available in a world that discourages it takes great courage. Next time a grieving person opens up about their feelings, listen and truly hear them without resorting to problem-solving. Although you can't fix grief, you can work through it.
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