The main thing I believe you need to remember when supporting someone who is grieving is: Don’t try to take their pain away.
‘What?!’ you say, ‘why would I want my best friend/mum/lover/child to be in pain? Why would I want them suffering?’ It’s not about you wanting them to be in pain or suffering but that you aren’t able to take the pain away. And all the things we end up doing and saying to try to stop our loved one’s suffering, typically causes more pain.
For example typical things we say to grieving people:
- It will get better
- Every cloud has a silver lining
- He (person who died) wouldn’t want you to be sad
- She had a good life
- Don’t be sad, he has stopped suffering now
- That’s enough, you need to be strong for your kids
- You are still young, there is still time to have another baby
- You need to stop dwelling on the past
The message behind all of these statements is ‘stop being sad/it’s not ok to be upset’ or ‘I’m really uncomfortable with you being sad and I need it to stop right now’. This does not help the grieving person. They need to be able to express their feelings, they need permission to feel the way they do – however that is, because you can’t argue with your own experiences and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. However, it is unhelpful to deny or avoid or invalidate ones feelings.
Typical things we do when around a grieving person:
– Avoid seeing or speaking with the bereaved because you don’t know what to say or do
– Don’t mention the person who has died or the bereaved person’s grief (it might remind them and make them upset). Talking about the person who died isn’t going to cause the loved one to get upset – they are already upset. It’s not going to remind them that their loved one died – they are already thinking about them all the time. However, it will acknowledge that the person existed and was loved and is remembered, which can be really powerful for the bereaved to hear *
*Note: Never try to force or tell someone to grieve a particular way, as everyone grieves differently. Don’t try to force someone to talk who doesn’t want to – however be open to talking about grief and the deceased person if that is what the bereaved person wants.
So next time you are with a loved one who is grieving, rather than trying to avoid your discomfort and your loved one’s pain, just sit with your own feelings of helplessness so that you can be present with your loved one and their pain, so they have permission to feel whatever it is that they are feeling and know you are strong enough to handle it with them.
So remember – stop trying to take away the pain, instead create an environment which is accepting of it.