Everyone experiences grief at one point or another. Unfortunately, when we lose someone, time is the only thing that can ease our sadness. That being said, we can always offer a helping hand to a friend or relative who has recently lost someone.
Throughout our lives, we grieve the loss of friendships, romantic relationships, pets, and even jobs but nothing hits harder than losing someone you love. If you would like to help someone who is grieving, it’s important to begin by acknowledging that everyone is different. We each have our own individual experience of grief that is unique to us. We all handle things differently and grief could have all sorts of unexpected effects on our body and mind.
When you know what to expect, it can make it easier to help someone out of a dark place. Which is why getting to know the grieving process is a good place to start.
Getting to know grief
Even though we all grieve in our own way, there are some stages in the grieving process that many people tend to experience.
The 5 stages of grief are thought to be:
Not everyone will experience all of these stages... and they might not happen in this particular order, however, they are typically experienced at one point or another throughout the grieving process.
What might someone experience while grieving?
Grief doesn’t just affect us mentally, it could also have physical effects on our body. Let’s look at some common physical and mental symptoms of grief…
Physical: loss of appetite, headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, crying, nausea
Mental: crying, difficulty sleeping, feelings of detachment, depression, isolation from family and friends, abnormal behaviour, anxiety, frustration, worry, guilt, anger, stress, questioning of spiritual beliefs, questioning the purpose of life
What can I do to help someone who is grieving?
Grief can leave us feeling scared and lonely. The first thing you should do to help someone who is grieving is to let them know that you’re there for them. Don’t be concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing as overthinking this can sometimes prevent us from reaching out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, text, email, even a letter. It doesn’t matter how you reach out, just make sure you do so that the bereaved person doesn't feel alone or isolated.
Lend an ear
It pains us to see someone we care about in a state of grief and we might feel it’s our duty to offer them our advice. But it could be challenging to offer advice when we don’t really know what someone is going through. So, instead of offering advice, it’s more important that you listen - but only if the bereaved wants to talk. Yes, talking could help us come to terms with loss but you shouldn’t pressure someone to open up either.
Help out in practical ways
When we are grieving, it might become harder to take care of day-to-day tasks. Our energy can be quite low, so even a small task like emptying the dishwasher or cooking dinner could be overwhelming. Offer to help in practical ways like picking up the weekly shop, dropping in with some ready-made meals or if it’s someone very close to you, you could even help them get their house in order.
Accept that it will take time
There is no way to say how long it will take for someone to get over their loss. Be patient and allow as much time as your loved one needs. Even if you feel frustrated and powerless, don’t pressure them to get over it faster than what is natural for them.
Share similar stories
If you’ve also lost someone close to you in the past, don’t hesitate to talk about that. It could give the bereaved hope that people can get through periods of grief, even if it feels as though they never will. It could be a reminder that they will experience happiness again with time.
Offer to accompany the bereaved while they sign the death certificate
A bereaved person may have to sign a death certificate. This task can be tough on someone who is grieving. You could offer to go along with them for support. It could also be a good idea to make time for a walk and a chat afterwards to allow the bereaved time to clear their head.
What not to do when someone is grieving
- Don’t avoid acknowledging the situation. Acknowledge their loss and then express concern by saying you’re sorry that this has happened to them. If you’re unsure if the bereaved is feeling up to talking about their loss, you could start by asking something like ‘How are you feeling about [the deceased]?’.
- Cooking for the bereaved is a lovely gesture but be aware that grief could cause a significantly decreased appetite. Smaller, easy to eat meals might be a better option. You can even drop up small nibbles if the bereaved doesn’t feel up to eating.
- Try to avoid saying things like ‘stop crying’ or ‘don’t cry’, even if it’s said in a nice way. Telling someone to stop crying could seem as though you’re shutting them down. If someone is crying, it’s ok to sit there silently. You can even give them a hug or hold their hand to reassure them. Crying can ease feelings of distress and regulate emotions. There’s truth to the expression ‘let it all out’.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself or make the bereaved laugh. Once you’ve checked in with them, you could open up and tell them about your day. It might be a nice break for them to hear about someone else’s life. Laughter is the best medicine, after all, so don’t be afraid to make jokes or be silly around the bereaved. Just be sure to choose an appropriate time and if you get a sullen response, that’s ok too. The bereaved might not be in a chatty mood but that doesn't mean they don’t appreciate the effort you’re making to cheer them up.
Do what you can
At British Seniors, we’ve helped thousands of Brits financially prepare for their death and so, we understand the stress and sadness that those left behind must face. When helping someone who is grieving, be aware that you can only do so much. It’s all about being a supportive, comforting presence for this person. Do what you can and don’t push yourself too hard. You can’t make someone's pain go away, all you can do is to try to make things easier for them.