This is one of the most important nuggets of advice that I can share. I know what it feels like to have people shit the bed on this, and it sucks, to say the least (but also shoutout to those people cuz they motivate me to help all y'all so holllaaaaa!).
Time and time again I get asked “My boyfriend/girlfriend/bestie/bro/sis/mom/dad/whoever is grieving, what the fuck can I do!?”
The answer is – a lot. I know it ain't easy, so let's help you help those you love shall we?
Just. Show. Up
In my experience, the absolute best way you can be there for a loved one in the midst of grief (for whatever reason) is by simply* showing up.
*Showing up actually isn’t so simple. Its confusing and scary and there's no guidebook. Do it anyways. Be present and be genuine.
"Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up" - Brene Brown
The day after my mom died a few friends came over and brought me dinner. One of these amigas sat across from me at my dining room table, looked me straight in the eye and said “Ummm, I have no idea what to say”.
Well, mon amie, motherfucking kudos to you! I mean, what do you say to someone who’s life was just turned upside down? There’s nothing you can express that can make it better, so get over the need to try. Just be there. Sit with the grieving and allow them to feel the comfort and support of your presence. Even when its silent, even and especially when its uncomfortable – show up. Acknowledge that they are in extreme pain, and offer your support. My caveat, however, is to do so only if you are in a mental and emotional place to be genuinely able and willing to support; and if you’re not, then do yourself and the grieving a favour and don’t pretend you are - you'll both be better off without you faking it.
Showing up does not look like giving unsolicited advice, offering reasons why the loss happened or why its all gonna be okay. These are tempting cuz its what most of us have been taught, but try to steer clear. Unless you’ve been through a similar experience – you don’t know what this feels like. And even if you have, respect that all losses, like all people and ways of grieving, are different (even when its about the exact same loss).
Top Takeaway #1
Be specific in your offers to help, such as "I'm heading to the grocery store this afternoon what can I bring you?" or "I can come over tomorrow and do your laundry or just sit with you," or really anything that is concrete, specific and shows the person you are truly willing to show up and be there for them during this painful, confusing and terrifying time.
Simply saying "let me know if I can help with anything" ain't helpful. Its a cop out, and one I most often heard from folks who didn't genuinely wanna help. #realtalk
There are a lot of fucked up ideas in our culture about how, when and why we should grieve. We often tell ourselves things about grieving to make ourselves - not the griever - feel better.
“I bet she wants to be alone right now,” “It’s been six months already, I’m sure they're doing much better,” or “He's so strong, he’ll get through this just fine.”
A lot of this BS is a result of our (i.e. – the Western) deathphobic society. We’re terrified by death or loss of any kind and we freeze in our tracks when we’re forced to confront it – so we let our minds run the show (often subconsciously) and give us any excuse not to actually do the hard work of asking questions and checking in. I urge you not to subscribe to this way of thinking.
Grief is a fucking asshole and it can leave you for dead. Literally. My grief was overwhelming and on more than one occasion I thought about ending it all as a way to alleviate the pain. Folks in the midst of grief need support in order to get through (hence why I'm here today).
When my mom died, a lot of folks assumed my grief would be lessened because I’d been in anticipatory grief. It wasn’t. After my car accident, peeps thought I wasn’t in chronic pain just cuz I “looked healthy”. Well, shit hurt.
Top Takeaway #2
Don’t assume the person can handle it solo, wants to be alone or has enough people around them. Don’t assume that he/she isn’t grieving just because their loss wasn’t over a death. Don’t assume that it gets better with time or that there's some sort of time cap on grief.
Don’t assume shit. Instead, ASK. Check-in with the person and ask how he/she is doing, if they do or do not wanna talk about, and how you can best support them.
How You Can Help those in Grief
Show up, be present and check-in with the grieving on a regular basis to try and ascertain what he/she is feeling and what he/she needs (and know that they likely won’t be able to tell you straight up - that's cool. Keep asking anyways). Remember that grief needs to be expressed, and it will do so in all sorts of ways.
And, don't assume shit. For the bereaved, grief often changes everything. Asking questions, following up and being a source of support not only during the first month or two, but years, is a huge and noble thing to do. Its what we do for those we love and it makes a world of difference to those in grief. I applaud you for wanting to be there and for taking steps to help. They're lucky to have ya.
Other Tips for SupportiNG Loved Ones THRU Loss...
- Continue to check-in, long after the loss has occurred. Grief is forever, but the pain needn't be. Your loved ones will appreciate you checking in with them on this 6 months, 1 year and many years down the road.
- Be empathetic and compassionate to however your loved one is feeling.
- Shoot him/her a text just to let them know you're in their thoughts - no reply required.
- Have integrity. Above all else, only offer what you can live up to and always keep your word.
- Read my free e-book The Shit You Need to Know About Grief which you can download by signing up here (shameless plug fo sho...but this e-book is full of helpful info for anyone impacted by grief).
Want more advice on how to help a loved one through grief? Book in for a FREE Grief Coaching Call specifically to help you help your loved ones. xo R