How can you help others - and yourself - deal with grief?
6/29/2020 by Sara Sedivy, MA, LP
Grief. It's such a simple word for that painful and complicated process when there is significant change or loss in our lives.
One might surmise that since grief and loss are part of the human condition, we should naturally know how to help others who are grieving. The reality is that many people have difficulty knowing how to help a friend, family member or colleague who is suffering a loss.
First, it's important to remember that grieving is natural and an individual experience; there's no right or wrong way to grieve. Here are some responses and attitudes that demonstrate what someone who is actively grieving may be feeling:
- I know it's difficult to see me hurting, but someone I love is gone and I am going to hurt for a while.
- Crying is a healthy reaction to grief, I need to feel my feelings as they come.
- Keep me connected to others — even if I don't respond, please send emails, call/text, invite me to lunch, send cards. It helps to know you care.
- Please don't try to compare my loss to yours.
- I am not going to "find closure" or "get over it" — but, in time, I will heal.
- Sadness and joy can coexist; when I laugh one day it doesn't mean that I won't cry the next.
- Grief can be a roller coaster ... some days I can conquer mountains and other days I can't get myself to shower.
- Please don't tell me to stay strong. To me that means, don't show emotion.
- Memories and stories are important to my healing. Please talk about my child, partner, sibling, grandchild or parents ... I will let you know if it's too much.
- Avoid platitudes such as "he/she is in a better place now".
- I may need more rest, be more needy, have less to give. Grief is draining and exhausting.
- Grief knows no timeline. It takes as long as it takes.
When someone you care about is grieving, you may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or feel you are intruding on their privacy. Don't let your discomfort prevent you from reaching out. Here are some tips to help:
- Understand the grieving process: There is no right or wrong way to grief; grief may involve extreme emotions and behavior; there is no timetable.
- Know what to say: While you may worry about what to "say" — it's actually more important to "listen".
- Offer practical assistance: Offer to shop for groceries or run errands; drop off a family meal; offer to assist with funeral arrangements, housework, child/pet care; or just be there to show your support.
- Provide ongoing support: Grieving doesn't stop when the funeral is over. Continue your support over the long haul.
- Watch for signs of depression: It's common to feel depressed, confused, and disconnected during grief, but if the symptoms don't fade over time (or they get worse), it may be a sign that this has evolved into a more serious problem.
Remember, grief can occur following any change — such as the loss of a job or position change, life-transition periods (kids leaving for college, getting married), relationship ending, or social distancing. Check out these resources if you or someone you know could use some extra support:
This quote from Days of Healing, Days of Joy by Earnie Larsen and Carol Larsen Hegarty is a good reminder to live by.
"So life has given us some dents. Dents are neither soft spots in our characters that should make us ashamed, nor saber scars that should make us proud. They are simply evidence that we have been alive for a while. Attending to our grief (sic) offers us the chance to learn from our dents, to accept them as new spaces for growth."
Sara Sedivy, MA, LP, is a psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH). For the past 21 years, she has practiced at Mayo Family Clinic Kasson and Baldwin Primary Care.