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Supporting Grievers

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Supporting Grievers

When we grieve those we love, we need people to help us move through our grief. Supporting someone who is hurting can be difficult and uncomfortable. It is not easy to watch someone hurt, but, take the pressure off yourself. It is not your job to take someone’s pain away, you simply cannot do it. However, you can make that pain more manageable by showing up, being a reliable support, not judging, accepting that grief takes a long time, and encouraging a person with kindness.

It takes a village to support us when we are overwhelmed with grief. Talk to those who are hurting, ask how they are doing today, talk about the person who died. Simply listen, without pretending that you know what they are going through. Do your best to understand. Furthermore, keep showing up for the long haul.

Supporting Friends, Family and Coworkers

Supporting Friends, Family and Coworkers

When someone is hurting we want to help. Sometimes, what we think is helpful is actually very hurtful. Our history with a person, the nature of our relationship, our intention, and our consistent efforts make a difference in whether we are helpful or just getting in the way.

1.     Listen first.
Being supportive starts with self-awareness about how we communicate. Good communication starts with listening. Talking is not always helpful; listening is. Often what people need most is to be heard and feel understood. The act of listening has nothing to do with you, except your willingness to understand the speaker’s perspective. An effective listener can move others into a deeper sharing of their story, feelings, struggles, and perspective.

2.     Invite more sharing.
You have to earn credibility as someone who is trustworthy, interested in understanding, and actually cares. Listening first creates an invitation to the speaker to share more. Inviting more sharing says you are genuinely interested, have no agenda, will not judge, and possess a desire to understand.

3.     Be consistent.
Listen. Invite more sharing. Keep showing up. It is not a flashy strategic plan and it does not always feel good, but it is the “nuts and bolts” of providing support.

4.     Mobilize others.
Mobilizing people and resources can happen in many different ways. The “Platinum Rule” is applicable: do to others what they want done. Very few people want to eat lasagna for the next 90 days, so do not mobilize a lasagna squad. Yet, people need to be fed. Life is busy for most people because there is so much to do. Assess what someone needs and help them. Grief is as much an individual as a communal process. We need other people to help get us through. Grief is not a 2 week, 2 month, or 6 month experience. It is a lifelong process. So, help build a supportive community now and in the future.

5.     Ask questions.
Do. Not. Assume. What is good for you may not be good or helpful to someone else. So, just ask. You may want to jump in quickly to feel helpful, but ask first. Asking does not equate with doing nothing. On the contrary, asking makes way for more effective support. Do not say “let me know what I can do” because few people know in the moment. Identify a concrete need and then understand how to meet it.

6.     Show up.
Absence and silence are brutally painful. It is not your job to fix anything or make it better. Being available is more beneficial than doing. Just show up and be present. What often happens in our society is that people show up for the first couple of months and then the support fades. Keep showing up.

7.     Don't try to fix.
“Helpers” often become “fixers.” That is a real obstacle to being supportive. Nothing is broken. No words or actions can, or ever have, made it all better. Take the pressure off of yourself to come up with the perfect thing to say or do. Being present is at the heart of being helpful.

8.     Grief is normal and serves a purpose.
Grief is the compilation of a lot of feelings, some of which are very hard to hear and witness. Just because they are intense or difficult does not mean there is something wrong or deranged. Grief is normal and serves an important purpose. People do not always get out of bed, shower, remember to eat, or know where they are going next. Do not suggest to, “Go get help” because that dismisses the intensity of the grief and abnormalizes it. Instead, comfort with, “I am here and we are going to get through this.” And then keep showing up.

9.     Talk about the person who died.
Sometimes people need to take a break from talking about the person who died. That is okay. It is not okay for us to stop sharing memories, ignore what happened, pretend that everything is fine, or change the subject. Often times, people will talk about their loved one and their grief if we ask questions and create a trusting environment.

10. Be patient and encourage.
Grief can be a broken record. Sometimes people replay a story over and over. Sometimes they forget what they said or seem perpetually confused or lost. That is okay. Patience and encouragement helps with the daily rebuilding process for creating a new routine as well as a sense of normalcy. Be a patient guide, knowing that the person is trying to find a way forward.

Supporting Children and Teens

Supporting Children and Teens

Grief is normal.
Grief is a normal part of the human experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to express that pain. Grief for kids is both emotional and physical. Kids benefit from physical outlets since they often do not have all the words to talk about it.

Grieving kids can feel alone.
Grief can be very isolating and many kids feel alone or misunderstood. Peer groups are highly effective because knowing someone going through something similar helps a child know they are not alone.

Don’t assume.
Kids will work hard to have their needs met. Do not assume what they are feeling or think you have all the answers. Just because a kid looks fine does not mean all is well. On the other hand, just because a child is having a hard time that does not mean something is wrong or that they need to be fixed.

You don’t have to fix it.
Kids benefit from open, honest, and understanding adults who do not assume or validate their experience. Listening to a child and being a dependable presence in their life matters. Kids desire consistency.

Try to understand.
It is more important that you understand a child’s perspective than try to fix their pain.

Be willing not to know.
It is okay if you do not have all of the answers to the questions a child asks or if you do not know their every thought. Every grief experience is unique and sometimes there is a lot of uncertainty or confusion.

Children need the truth.
Children understand their feelings, death, and the future through facts and truth. Lies never help. Use facts and not euphemisms or clichés to talk about death. With the truth, kids can learn and develop healthy coping skills.

Modify your expectations.
Do not expect a child to think or feel like an adult. Kids grieve in spurts, their questions may vary as they try to understand death in addition to their feelings, which they will emote differently than adults.

Everyone’s grief is unique.
No two individuals will grieve the same, whether they are a child or an adult. Everyone experiences grief differently depending on where they are developmentally, their support systems, the nature of their relationship to the deceased, in addition to many other factors. Everyone is different. It is important that each feeling is affirmed and supported even when a child’s truth differs from yours.

Be prepared.
Knowledge is power. Use teachable moments to educate a child about death. Learn how to talk openly about this subject matter, using honest language and creating a safe space for present or future needs.

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