Support Your Loved One Who Is Grieving This Holiday Season With These 7 Tips.
The holiday season is one that can be very difficult for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Whether it is a recent loss or a loss that happened many years ago, the holidays often can be triggering for those who are missing someone in their lives.
Often times, it is hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving. Words can fail us during these difficult times, and we are often left stammering and fumbling around, unsure of how to support the person that we care for.
Even as a therapist, this is still something that I find difficult to do in my personal life. It can be so difficult to know what words to say, or even if it is appropriate to say anything at all. What I have learned is that there is no one specific way that is best to support someone who is grieving. There are however some strategies that have been shown to be effective that we wanted to share with you today.
1. Provide A Safe And Loving Environment For Your Loved One.
Providing a safe and loving environment means that your loved one knows when they come to you they will not be judged for how they are feeling, or asked to feel differently. Simply meet them wherever they are in their grief, and listen to them without expectation. When people are grieving or going through trauma, their brain is a place that feels scary and unsafe to be in. When you can provide them a physical space where they know they can be themselves, this can make a huge impact.
2. Don’t Try And ‘Fix’ Their Grief.
When your loved one is talking to you about their grief, it is tempting to make statements like “It will get better” or “I went through the same thing when ____”. It is a natural human response to want to fix others pain. However, this is not helpful to the person who is grieving, and can actually make them feel like you do not appreciate the weight of their grief.
Try to stay away from giving advice, and instead focus on meeting them where they are at. One way to do this is to listen more than you talk. When you do talk, focus on making sure you are hearing the person correctly: “It sounds like you are feeling___”. “It makes sense that you would be remembering____”.
Instead of giving unsolicited advice, focus on being present with your loved one. Remind them that of what is true in the present moment: “I am here, you are safe, and I love you”.
3. Remember That This is Not About You.
Supporting someone who is grieving can be an incredibly challenging and emotionally draining process, especially when we are supporting someone that we deeply care about. However, it is so important that we do not take on their grief, and make it about us.
Further, when your loved one is hurting, it is possible that they may do something that offends or hurts you. Remind yourself that this is possibly a part of their grief, and is not a personal attack. Create boundaries when you need to, but do not take out your frustrations on this person. Ensure that you have your own support system outside of this person that can help you with your feelings.
4. Give Concrete Ways That You Can Help.
“Call me if you need me.” This is such a familiar and popular phrase to say when someone is going through a tough time. The truth behind this is, they will not call you. Someone who is grieving is feeling extremely vulnerable and alone, and usually does not have the confidence to call someone to say they need a shoulder to cry on, or a meal.
Give concrete examples of ways that you can help, and specific times and days that you can do this. “I can make a counselling appointment with you for Thursday and drive you there.” “I can clean your house Wednesday morning with you.” The more clear you are with the ways you can help, the more likely it is that your loved one will accept your help.
5. Remember Grief Comes In Waves.
When I think of grief, I imagine it like waves. Sometimes the waters are calm and all is good, but if the conditions are right (like in the holiday season), the waves will pick up, and the grief can come crashing back into our lives.
No matter if it has been 3 days, or 15 years since the loss, the wind can pick back up if the conditions are right, and the feelings of grief will come back. Unfortunately, grief does not have an end date, but instead is a gradual process.
Check in with your loved ones, and see how they are doing, especially during times like the holiday season, birthdays, and anniversaries. Remind them that you love them, and that you are thinking of them.
6. Be Honest.
Often times when we are supporting a loved one, we have no idea what to say or how to help them. If this is what you are feeling, tell the person this. They will appreciate your honesty. Try saying something like: “What is the best way that I can support you right now?”. OR “I am not sure what to say to you, but I am here to listen whenever you need it.”
7. Avoid Saying These Statements:
“How are you doing?” This question suggests that the person should answer with “OK” or “Fine”. It is a question often filled with expectation, instead of searching for a real answer. Try saying statements such as: “It must be really tough” or “It makes sense that you would be having a hard time right now.”
“They are in a better place.” This statement dismisses the fact that this person is no longer here with their loved one. It can make the grievers feel like they are wrong for feeling sad or upset. It also assumes that the person has this belief system. Instead try: “I am sorry you are struggling.”
“You are handling this well.” In all honesty, we don’t know how the person is feeling inside. This assumes that this person is in fact well, and can make them feel like they need to continue hiding their pain. Instead try saying: “You might not be feeling too great, but that is OK.”
Take Home Message:
It can be very difficult to know the best way to support a person who is grieving. Today we talked about a few strategies that can help you be the best supporter possible to your loved one.
- Provide a safe and loving environment.
- Don’t try to “fix” their grief.
- Remember that this is not about you.
- Give concrete ways that you can help.
- Remember that grief comes in waves.
- Be honest.
- Avoid certain statements that will be more hurtful than helpful.
We hope that this will help you over the holiday season, when feelings of grief and trauma are often triggered.