How to support a loved one who is grieving
I have been meaning to write this post for a while now. This week marks two years since my beloved mother went to heaven, so I figure now is a good time to share my thoughts on this topic. While these are very much my own thoughts, I have spoken with others on this topic and have found that they tend to agree with me on what is helpful and what is not. A lot of what I have to say applies to people with whom you have a close relationship.
The first thing I would say is that if you want to support a loved one who is grieving, do not be afraid to bring up their loss. Many people feel awkward bringing up my mom because they worry it will make me sad. Little do they know that even now, two years later, I am constantly thinking of my mom. She forms the backdrop of my thoughts, and there is really no need for anyone to worry that they will be “reminding” me of my loss if they bring her up. In fact, it is often a relief for me when people bring up the topic because I am already thinking about it and have plenty to say about it, but often keep my thoughts to myself unless asked.
Next, don’t be afraid to be “proactive” in your support. After my mom passed away, many well-intentioned people would say things like “let me know if you need anything at all” or “call me if you want to talk”. While these words were of course well received, I was just not in a place to reach out to others. These types of phrases are passive, and what those who are grieving often need, are more active forms of support. For example: my friend Shannon dropped by uninvited a few days before my mom passed away. We were all sitting on my mom’s bed chatting together when the door bell rang. When I opened the door, expecting to see another family member, my heart warmed to see Shannon’s smiling face holding a bag of home made cookies. Needless to say, I was touched, and although she did not stay long, I felt her support. Many (including myself), would not think to take such a forward move as to drop by someone’s house when their mother is about to pass and tensions are high, but this is why this gesture meant so much. It also meant a lot to see a face who was outside of the situation. A connection with the outside world at a time where it seemed like I had none. After my mom passed away, it was those who made similar gestures that ended up being able to provide the most support. The lesson here I guess is not to be afraid to “impose” – don’t wait until you’re invited.
Third, if you knew the person who passed away, share your memories. I did not realize how much this helps, until I went through it myself. At the funeral and during the days and months that followed, many people relayed stories to my family and I about my mother. Personally, this validated my grief. It was like people were saying “I understand why you are so sad because I know what a wonderful person she because of this, this, this”. It is also validating because seeing someone pass away is so surreal, that your mind almost doesn’t believe that they were ever there in the first place (if that makes any sense). Hearing other people’s memories confirms that your lost loved one really did exist, and really did leave behind lasting memories and a legacy. In my own experience, I was also touched to hear stories that I had never heard about my mother before. It helped to know the way that she had touched other people’s lives.
This article about surviving trauma was recently published on the Sojourners blog. I found the discussion on “firefighters” and “builders” to be right on point, and have pasted it below:
Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.
This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder.
If you have any other suggestions or thoughts, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.