The days following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. We find ourselves not only coping with grief, but also having to deal with things such as finances or funeral arrangements. It can be difficult, complicated, and exhausting. During such times we are in great need of the support of our friends and family. It is also during those times that many people find themselves at a loss as to how best to support someone who has suffered a loss.
Several people have shared what they found the most helpful while they were grieving. They also gave specific suggestions on what to do, as well as what NOT to do, when someone you care about has experienced the death of a loved one.
Reach out. Whether it is physically or electronically, reach out and let them know you care. “Just send a card, make a phone call, say something on social media, anything. Assume that no one else did.”
Show up. Whether it is to hug them or help them, show up. Your presence can be a great comfort. Sit with them and listen, sit with them in silence, or even just cry with them.
Help. Don’t just say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Say, “WHAT can I do to help you?” Bringing food along with things like paper plates, plastic ware, and napkins can be helpful, as well as straightening the house or answering the phone. Sometimes that help or food can be even more needed days and weeks after the funeral is over.
Avoid platitudes. Even if you believe them to be true, phrases such as, “She’s in a better place,” “God needed her more than we do,” “At least it was over quickly,”, or even “It was God’s will,” can potentially be upsetting. Instead try saying, “I’m sorry,” or “I love you and am here if you need me.” It’s also okay to not know what to say.
Don’t judge. It is best to focus on being loving and supportive, especially if someone died in a complicated manner such as the result of suicide or addiction. People don’t need to hear your negative opinion about their loved one’s life or choices.
Let them grieve. Don’t try to fix it, and remember it is okay to not be okay. Let people express their emotions in the way that is best for them. Don’t make them feel they have to hide their grief, tears or anger to help make you more comfortable.
Give them space if they want it… but not too much space. Some people need to be left alone while they are grieving. Respect their need for solitude or privacy, but let them know you are still there for them.
Keep reaching out. The days following a death are busy, but it is the months and years following that are the most lonely. They will continue to need you in the future as they learn to adjust to their new reality. Remember that “life changes after the loss, and they change as well.”
People may find it helpful if you reach out in years to come on their loved one’s birthday, or on the anniversary date of the death. Sending a “thinking of you” card or message can be comforting, or maybe even offering to have a meal together on or around that date.
Help keep their loved one’s memory alive. Talk about them, tell your stories and share happy memories of them. If you didn’t know them well, say, “Can you tell me more about them?” This can have a positive affect on a grieving person’s well-being. One person shared, “Sometimes we think we bore people or make them secretly roll their eyes because we talk about them too much. SO much! But talking about them is so healing.” It is also important to listen even if they have told you the same story countless times.
Say their name. Some individuals are afraid to bring up those who have departed because it might cause their loved ones to cry. However, one person warned, “Avoiding them in discussions about the past or memories makes it seem like they did not have an impact.” Another shared that it’s okay to say their name, even if it brings tears, because “it might make me tearful on the outside, but it makes my heart happy on the inside.”
Don’t pull away. Sometimes people lose friendships because others don’t know what to say, or how to act, around someone who has suffered a loss. Many women who have lost a child have shared that other mothers tended to pull away from them for fear that their own children might make their friends sad. One mother wrote, “Child loss is so taboo. Initially people are so caught up in the loss and almost suffocate you with their comfort. For me, the difficult times came in the years that followed when it seemed people didn’t remember. It leaves you feeling cursed in many ways. People eventually pull away as if you are marked. Don’t get me wrong, many people still supported us…but there were always the side glances, and quiet whispers. I think people assume we are like glass…fragile and likely to crumble at any moment. When, In fact, all we want is to remember and have others remember that we had a child…a real live child…and we still are very much connected to that life and those memories.”
Be patient. People grieve at heir own pace, so don’t expect someone to be done with the process just because a certain amount of time has passed. Don’t tell them it is time to “move on” or to “get over it.” As one person put it, “Grief takes a long time.”
Over time the waves of grief will ebb and flow, and people who have lost a loved one will continue to need us to help them stay afloat in the years to come. However you choose to support them, make sure they know they are not alone. Ultimately what really matters is how we love and support one another. After all, we’re all in this together.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870