Do’s and Don’ts: How to support the grieving

What to say and what NOT to do when supporting grieving individuals.

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
12 Days of Healing, The Don'ts: How to support the grieving
The Don'ts: What NOT to say and do
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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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Understanding your grief

How to understand your grief when your world has been turned upside down.

7 DAYS OF HEALING : DAY 3

There is one cardinal rule to understanding your grief -- expect the unexpected. Losing someone unexpectedly to an accident, violence, or unknown causes is not different from losing them to a foreseen disease or illness. No one loss is more traumatizing than another. No matter how you experience loss, your life will never be the same. As we adjust to our new reality without them, there will be challenges that can seem overwhelming. Before we can muster the strength to work through our grief, we first need to understand what grief really is. 

Grief vs Grieving

What is grief exactly? Grief is our emotional state, how we react to loss. Grieving is the process where we adapt and adjust to life without who or what we lose. While we continue to live and make memories, the new moments we have with the deceased cease. This realization is why the grieving process never truly ends. How you grieve merely changes form over time. The initial pain dulls to an ache. The hole left in your heart scabs over, but missing their physical presence and what they represented in our lives remains forever.

Acknowledge your grief

Usually, grieving individuals are encouraged to 'be strong.' This limiting belief is even self-imposed, especially if the individual is the head of the household or holds some other leadership position, whether in the community or their family. However, 'holding it together' for the sake of others doesn't allow room to acknowledge grief, let alone feel it. Death brings about transformation and shifts the world as you once knew it. By recognizing that your world has changed, you are extending yourself the grace necessary to start healing.

You are not alone.

Grief is a deeply personal yet shared experience that we will all encounter at some point or another. It's common for happiness and joy to trigger feelings of isolation and loneliness for grieving individuals, especially when surrounded by family and friends immersed in the holiday spirit. It's important to remember that whether loved ones can directly relate, you are less alone than you realize. Although individually we process grief differently, someone somewhere can identify with your thoughts or feelings. And even those who have yet to encounter grief can support us by simply being present.

Grief is unpredictable.

Grief manifests in several different ways. Any combination of emotions may arise from anger, sadness, and despair to shock, numbness, and longing. One person can experience emotional outbursts, yet the next person may feel nothing. Some find comfort in openly expressing their pain, while others are more comfortable sorting out their feelings solo. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. No matter how much time has passed, being hit with a pang of grief can be as fresh as the first time it strikes. It may seem counterintuitive to ride the wave of complex feelings grief can bring, but surpressing your emotions versus embracing your triggers will only prolong the grieving process. Let go of all preconceived notions and expectations of what grieving should feel or look like.

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Surviving holiday grief

Essential tips for surviving holiday grief

7 DAYS OF HEALING : DAY 3

Surviving holiday grief can be incredibly difficult. While twinkling lights, colorful decorations, and festivities usually illicit holiday cheer for others, they also serve as a painful reminder of loss. Although the holiday season is a happy occasion, it can also remind us of the loved ones no longer present to share in the laughter and joy of the holiday season. Increased sadness, feeling a need to isolate, and the inability to get into the holiday spirit are normal when grieving, especially during the first year of mourning. Understanding these helpful tips may be the difference between surviving or thriving this holiday season.

There will be triggers

Carolers going door to door singing Christmas hymns or holiday music playing on the radio may drum up memories of your grandma humming Christmas tunes while cooking up holiday favorites or mom and dad dancing around the house hanging stockings with care. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" takes on a different meaning when all your heart desires is one more kiss from your beloved under the mistletoe. A trigger can appear at any time, whether it's the first year or ten years later. It's the memories that will never be what we most struggle with. The sooner you embrace the unpredictability of the grieving process, the more in control you'll feel and better equipped you'll be to surviving holiday grief.

Take a moment to pause.

Don't feel inclined to participate in celebrating for the sake of others if your heart's not in it. The hustle and bustle of life is already overwhelming at times without the added layer and complexities of grieving. Extend yourself some grace. Someone else can host dinner or bring a dessert to the family gathering this year. Delegate tasks and partake in much-needed self-care practices that relax the mind and reduce stress. If skipping the holidays is not an option, take momentary breaks to reflect and process.  If skipping the holidays is not an option, take momentary breaks to reflect and process. Have an exit plan ready when things get too heavy and escaping seems more comfortable than socializing.

Distractions can be healthy.

Despite popular belief, the right distractions can be beneficial if used appropriately. Everyday mundane things like work, grocery shopping, and school projects provide a sense of normalcy and a familial tie to our past life before grief and loss set in. The distraction could involve focusing on your children's activities or prioritizing their interests over your own. Taking up a new hobby or revisiting a passion you once held are good ways to redirect without numbing or burying your grief.

It's ok to be happy.

Many mourners believe that the only way to grieve is through constant sadness and tears. There may be self-imposed guilt at the expense of experiencing moments of joy. The reality is grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience. A moment can bring a range of emotions - from happiness to sadness. 

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The holidays are a time for love, giving, and celebrating. Never feel bad for getting into the spirit. Being festive, even if momentarily, doesn't diminish or invalidate your loss. It's merely an example of how intricate the human experience is. Give gifts, unwrap presents, tell your friends and family you love them, create new memories or any combination of things that ward off misery and despair. 

Remember the reason for the season.

Regardless of religion, charity and family are universal truths behind the holidays. Redirect your focus on the reason behind why we celebrate shifts our perspective. Volunteer your time to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches or anywhere where there are those in need. 

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