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Supporting a loved one through grief

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences life can throw our way. It comes with a variety of different tasks and emotions that can quickly overwhelm anyone. Therefore, it is easy to see how supporting someone through this experience can also be a helpless feeling. There will never be a one specific or right way to support someone you love through this journey. However, it’s important to be aware of a few aspects that can make the process a little easier for everyone.

Here is what I have found to be helpful.

1.) Make space for a person's grief without trying to solve it: Grief is hard and uncomfortable for everyone. When we see a loved one experiencing such intense sadness and discomfort, we have a tendency to want to solve it or offer advice. Unless the person has specifically asked for advice, it is best to avoid it. Instead, try acknowledging the grief by simply listening and acknowledging the emotions the person is feeling.

2.) Create some hope without asking the person to look on the bright side or search for a silver lining: Again, a person's heart is in the right place when they try to find the positives in a day. However, it can often feel dismissive for the person experiencing grief. Instead, try a statement that acknowledges the difficulty while also creating some hope. For example, "I know this is an incredibly difficult moment in your life and I want you to take the space to grief. I also know that you are a strong person and will find a way through this, even if it takes time for you to know what that looks like." or "I know this week has not been easy for you. Yet, you got up and went to work and I'm so proud of you for that. I can't imagine that it was easy."

3.) Don't be afraid to speak about the person and use their name: Yes, this may prompt some tears and uncomfortable emotions but it creates space to honor that person's memory. It is also ok to let them know how much you also miss that person.

4.) Avoid asking "How are you?" or saying "Let me know how I can help.": These are two statements they will hear so many times it can become frustrating. It also puts the burden on that person to come up with some way that you can help them. An alternative way may be, "It seems like today was a really tough day for you. I would be happy to make dinner for you?" Giving them something specific allows them to say yes or no without the pressure to give you something you can do to help them. If they turn you down, that is ok. You can try responding with, "No worries at all. If you change your mind, the offer still stands. I can also be here to simply listen if you need it.".. That being said, sometimes it is helpful to just do it! If you notice they haven't eaten for awhile, make them their favorite meal or snack without asking. Even if they only eat a few bits, that is still a win!

5.) Have an SOS system: Sometimes grief can be so overwhelming that there are truly no words for it. Having a system like texting "SOS", allows the person to let you know that they need support without having to find the right way to ask for it. It's a perfect way for them to signal to you that they may need you to drop everything simply to sit with them or hug them while they cry.

6.) If you are concerned about a person's safety or that they may be thinking about suicide, ASK!: There is nothing you can say that can make a person become suicidal by asking them whether they are thinking about hurting themselves. Yes, this is a scary question but it is scarier not to know. Asking this lets the person know you care and gives them a space to express it if they do feel that way so you can help them find the resources they need. Resources include: dialing/texting 988 or taking the client to your local emergency room to be assessed for further support. If the individual grieving has a therapist, this would be a good thing to touch base on to see if they have a specific coping plan (they may not have a specific coping plan if the thoughts haven't come up, or if they aren't experiencing suicidal thoughts).

Overall, remember that grief is unique for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no specific timeline. Know that you WILL say the wrong thing at some point.. we all do! Even the experts. Be kind to yourself in those moments and continue to show up for your loved one. Don't forget to make space for your own emotions, find a self care routine, and rely on your own social support. Supporting a loved one through grief is no easy task! However, with time they will find a way to tackle that grief mountain and pick up tools along the way to make that journey easier. They will also be forever grateful that you showed up and were willing to walk that journey with them.

Caitlin Jacek, MSW, LCSW

847.790.4959 ext 4

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