When the time comes to support a griever, people often don’t think much past the funeral. The few that do likely drop off somewhere after the one year mark. I get it. Death and emotions makes people uncomfortable. It wasn’t your personal life and so your life moves on. Unless you have suffered loss yourself, support will not come naturally. That’s OK. It is human nature to want to believe the smile they show you on the outside a year later is authentic. You just don’t know what you don’t know.
Grief never ends. It is not possible to get over a big loss. It stays with you and permeates every aspect of your life. That’s not to say the griever will never be happy again. They will find happiness in moments. However, they will forever suffer their loss. Often in silence as they will feel pressured to hide their grief. This adds to their pain because they want their loss to be acknowledged! Knowing the world has not forgotten makes it somehow easier to live through.
So what can you do to help someone that is grieving? Here are 7 great ways to help show your support well after the funeral.
1. Remember Dates – Even If You Cheat
To all grievers there are 2 dates that forever hold value. The first is their loved one’s birthday. The second is the date of their death. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, these days are sacred. In the first year of loss, people remember. After that, it happens less and less. While no one expects you to memorize these dates, it makes a huge impact to the griever when someone acknowledges their significance. They remember! You do not need anything elaborate. Just a simple text message, email, or card that says, “I remember. You are in my thoughts.” There is an easy cheat that will ensure you never forget! Set a reminder on your phone, in a calendar app, or write it on your calendar. This simple activity can change their entire day!
2. Acknowledge Their Loss – Say Their Name
After the death of a loved one, it is common for a griever to have people close to them avoid the topic of their loss. It makes them uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than feeling as if people walk on egg shells. Believe me it is noticeable! It’s best to just acknowledge it. The griever wants you to! You do not have to ask details if it makes you uncomfortable. Even just saying, “I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I hope you are doing OK.” You will have made the griever’s day with just a simple acknowledgement. It also opens the door for them to share how they are really doing if they want to. Most importantly, never be afraid to say the name of the person they lost! They love to hear someone say their name or talk about a memory.
3. Set A No Expectations Rule & Mean It
Grief changes you in ways you never expected. It is common for the griever to feel as if they have lost a part of themselves. It is possible they have. Things that were once of interest may no longer be appealing. They may change their normal routine. People that were once outgoing may prefer to stay home. Invitations that used to be fun (i.e. birthdays, weddings, family gatherings) are now avoided. There are triggers everywhere and their actions are likely part of their coping mechanism.
Grievers often find their closest friends and family are the ones to drop off and disappear after loss. Please don’t ever stop inviting a griever! Even if they always seem to bail, let them know they are always welcome. Let them know that you plan to continue inviting them, texting them, calling them, or whatever your offer may be. You take the initiative. Set a no expectations rule. It is completely up to them whether they feel like answering your call, responding to your text, or showing up to the invite. No judgement either way. It takes the pressure off of everyone.
4. Don’t Try To Fix Anything – You Can’t
It is natural to try and offer advice to a griever. As they share difficult emotions, stories, and events, it is hard to listen. Your immediate reaction will be to try and help them fix it. Grief is not something you can fix. There is nothing you can do or say that will make this go away or feel better. Plus, the griever has no interest in the advice you have to offer. Their grief journey is unique to them. They must do whatever feels right to them in the moment. This is the only way they can survive and learn to live with their loss. So resist the urge to tell them what you think they should do or to offer suggestions. Simply validate what they say and let them know you heard them. That is all they really want.
5. If You’re Not Comfortable, Fake It!
Grief makes everyone uncomfortable, even the griever. We feel it when you rush to change the subject. It is noticeable when you try to dance around our loss. We spend a lot of time crafting exactly how we answer common questions and what we share because we anticipate our grief will cause awkward moments. When we are lucky enough to have someone make an effort, we notice! It makes our heart happy. So my best advice if you want to support a griever is to never let your fear or discomfort get in the way. We wholeheartedly appreciate it, even if you fake it.
6. Ask & Listen
Do not ever be afraid to ask questions. As long as you ask questions in a nonjudgmental tone and are genuinely interested it will come across in the right way. Seeking to understand grief is the best form of support out there. Comment on things they posted on social media related to their loss. Ask how they did with the latest milestone. Ask if there is anything you can do. Just be available to listen to their memories. Let them tell their story. It is so healing!
7. Silence Is OK
Get comfortable with silence. Most times silence is best! It sure beats feeling as if you put your foot in your mouth trying to say the right thing and having it come out all wrong. Just so you know, most things that are commonly said to grievers as a way to offer hope end up feeling like a stab to the heart. A silent hug, squeeze of the arm, or sympathetic smile is so much better.