Supporting Others

As my family goes through the grieving process for my uncle, I have been struggling with how to help them. I feel like I, of all people, should know what to do to support them. And yet, here I sit, unsure, and questioning myself. There are many articles out there on how to support people through grief, and they’re all helpful.

Here are my tips, in bullet-point, because lists like that are easier for me to process:

  • Say something.
    • It doesn’t matter what. If you care about the person who’s grieving, say something about it.
    • Silence implies that you’re not comfortable with their pain, or with what’s happened, or you just don’t care enough.
    • Things you can say:
      • I am sorry you’re having to deal with this.
      • I don’t know what to say, but I care.
      • I know I can’t say anything to make it better, but I am here with you.
      • This sucks, and I understand that. You’re in my thoughts/prayers/heart.
    • Don’t be afraid to say that the person they’re grieving is dead. It’s a fact. And they’re having to deal with it. If you’re able to acknowledge and face it, it gives them permission to be more open in their thought processes.
  • Offer help.
    • Try to avoid asking what you can do.
      • They are dealing with so much right now that thinking of a task to make you feel useful may well be too much.
      • Offer instead. Something you’re WILLING to do, and won’t resent.
        • Can I make you food so you can reheat it?
        • Can I help with your dishes?
        • Can I wash your car?
        • I’m always by my phone, call me any time you need to talk.
        • Call me if you need someone to go to dinner/the movies/drinks with to distract you.
        • Can I take the kids for a night, so you can get some rest?
    • Accept the fact that they may not accept your offer. This doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it. It means they don’t need that particular thing, or they’re wanting to hold on to some semblance of normalcy, or just can’t fathom dealing with anything that’s outside of right here, right now.
  • Allow them space to grieve the way they need to.
    • No one way of grieving is correct. No one way is incorrect.
    • Allow them their anger, fear, sadness, relief, numbness. They WILL cycle through everything. If they share that with you, don’t try to get them to get over it.
    • Allow them to NOT share with you, if they don’t want to.
      • Some people need to grieve alone.
      • The facade of being ok may be one of the only things holding them together. If they don’t WANT to share with you, let them be normal.
  • Don’t take it personally.
    • Grief does strange things to your brain and emotions.
      • Sometimes, you just can’t deal with something for no other reason than you can’t, and it has nothing to do with who said or did that thing, or what that thing was.
      • Sometimes you just can’t deal with someone you really like because of some indefinable something, and it’s got nothing to do with whether you like that person or not.
    • Everyone has different phrases that just trigger them. Don’t take it personally if you stumble on one of those and get a non-proportional response.
  • Remember that it will take a long time.
    • If you truly do care about them, stick with them, even when they’re still dealing with it months out. Years out.
    • Death is permanent. This isn’t something they’ll ‘get over’ – they’ll hopefully be able to move forward, with support. But the person they loved is still dead. Always will be. That will hurt forever.
    • If they seem to move forward quickly, allow them that, but understand that even if they seem just fine, there may be an event or something that happens long after you’ve gotten the impression that they’re ok now that will trigger a memory, or a breakdown.
  • Allow for your own imperfection
    • You are no more perfect than anyone else. You’ll say the wrong thing. Forgive yourself. Apologize. Move on.
    • You beating yourself up to the grieving person is likely to make them want to help you feel better, and they may not have the emotional energy to handle it. Realize that, and if you do mess up, learn from it and move forward.

I’m not perfect. I’ve broken almost all my rules/suggestions. But I hope they do help, because there’s no single way to do this. You’re going to mess up. They’re going to mess up. Life is messy.

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