Loss is an incredibly difficult part of our everyday life. It can be viewed in the sense of someone passing away, a relationship coming to an end, or closing the chapter on something. Regardless of the type of loss, feelings of sadness, pain, hurt, and mourning can arise and can be very hard to navigate. Another challenge with loss is knowing how to support someone you love who is going through it. We all have our own way of how we would process a loss, but trying to help someone else in their own experience is very different. In this article we will explore three important ways to help support a loved one through a time of loss.
How can you support someone experiencing loss or grief?
One of the best things you can do for someone who is grieving is to listen. When someone is going through a loss, they may not know how to fully process what they are experiencing. They may be feeling a mix of emotions that are painful, do not quite make sense to them, or may conflict with each other (e.g., sad one moment, laughing the next). Because they are trying to sort out what is coming up for them, it is SO important for their loved ones to be there with open ears and open hearts. Someone who is grieving needs the support of someone who will sit with them in their feelings, without judgment, and listen. This may be difficult because seeing someone you love in pain can be very hard, but they do not need to be “fixed” in that moment, hear what the solutions to their loss may be, or how it will get easier with time; they need you to listen and to be there. Going into “fix-it” mode, will likely cause the person to not feel heard and can translate your discomfort to them. This can ultimately push your loved one away, or can cause them to minimize what they are going through in order to take care of you and your feelings. Instead, slow down and listen.
Another important form of support is to give your loved one the time and room to heal. It can be tempting to try and push them to start doing things, to get out of the house, be social, etc., but all of those things need to be done in time and when your loved one is ready, not just because you want that for them. Pushing someone to move through their grief quicker than they are ready to, can cause a suppression of their feelings to build up internally, which can then come out completely misplaced later in life. Loss does not go away over night and is not linear, so the feelings around it may constantly be changing. It is important for someone who is grieving to feel and ride all of the waves of emotion that come with the grief- meaning some days they may feel able to take on the day and socialize with friends, and another day they may want to stay in with a good shoulder to cry on; most importantly, however, is them knowing that you are with them on this difficult ride and are not pushing them to be somewhere they are not in their loss process.
Lastly, check in on them. Often times with loss, people do not know how to bring up their feelings or how to talk about what they are going through. They may worry it will be “too much” for someone to hear, or may feel overwhelmed trying to sort through their emotions. This can cause them to not know how to ask for the help or the support that they need because they, themselves, may not even know what that support looks like. This is why it is crucial to check in on your loved one and remind them that you are there. Let them know that you want to listen if they want to talk, or send a simple text such as “thinking of you today,” or “checking in to see how you’re doing.” Reaching out or sending that text may be the one thing they needed to hear that day and can help start a healing conversation. People also tend to forget that loss can take a really long time to move through- so you may think your loved one is “fine” because some time has passed, but they may be hurting and need to be checked in on. Remind them that you are still there.
Remember the 3 Keys to Supporting a Loved One through Grief
- Lend a listening ear
- Give time and room to heal
- Check in with them
Loss looks and feels different for everyone so know that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Also, coming to acceptance of a loss can take years and years, if ever, for someone. So listen, make room for their loss, and check in on them. Also remember that while you are trying to support them, it is very important to support YOU during this time! Watching someone you love go through any kind of loss, may bring up a lot of your own feelings. It is so important for you to reach out to your own loved ones and your own forms of support, so that you can heal and process through your emotions as well.
About the Author: Nicole Evans is a California and Texas based licensed marriage and family therapist who mainly works with adults going through self-esteem issues, anxiety/depression, and life transitions. She has spent the last 10 years studying and practicing therapy to provide her clients with a safe and non-judgmental space to feel heard and understood. When she is not working, you can find her outside enjoying nature with her golden retriever, Bear. If you would like to connect with Nicole directly, head to her Frame profile.