Loss is hard. No matter what the loss is: death of a grandparent, child, infant, unborn child, parent; loss of a job; loss of physical capabilities, etc. I have been trying to write this for weeks now and find myself bawling every time as it is such a tender subject. During the time that I chose to write this, I had multiple people close to me lose a family member, and we observed the seven year anniversary of my Father in law’s passing.
With all of this death and mourning, I feel like my words need to be heard. I learned SO MUCH from experiencing a major loss first hand. I learned from mourning my own loss of a Father in law and Grandpa to my children, and seeing the toll it took on my husband to be the oldest of 10 children and lose a father. Not everyone will mourn the same way, but I feel these general principles can help us reach out to those who are grieving.
- Be thereYou don’t need to say anything, just your presence can mean the world to them. Especially if it is the loss of a close family member, the house may be more quiet than usual. Having a visitor can help break up usual routines that may cause them to mourn their loss anew. Whether you cry with them or just hold the tissue box, your presence shows that you are concerned and care about them.
- Don’t assume you know what it feels likeEvery person has different life events that shape how they will react to life. Unless you have been that exact person in that exact situation, you don’t know. You may have suffered the same type of loss, but who you are defines your experience. We have probably all responded to a loss incorrectly. I know that I definitely have, and wish that I could take back those words, but I can’t. Have empathy, not sympathy.
- ListenSometimes there is so much grief, words can’t be put together to form a sentence. Weeping may be all they can do. But when they want to talk, they will want someone there to capture the moment before it fades. Reliving details and telling and retelling the story can be part of the healing process. It helps to make sense of things that our minds can’t quite comprehend.
- Act‘Let me know if you need anything’ is a wonderful, yet passive phrase. If there is a need that you can fill, just act. Everyone needs food, but think beyond the casserole. Freezer meals, or foods with a longer shelf life are great foods that will be useful in the future. Laundry, house cleaning, lawn mowing, grocery shopping, etc. are services that you can offer. Expecting a person to call when they need help knowing that they may be inconveniencing you, is not very practical. Show up with the supplies to serve, or call asking when you can provide a specific service.
- Remember themPeople are great at responding with love and care to the initial tragedy, but need to move on with their own lives, while those who mourn face the tragedy much longer. Remembering them for weeks and months after with a phone call or visit gives a further support to them on hard days. Remembering anniversaries, first holidays after the loss and other major life events is always appreciated.
If you have someone who has just experienced a loss, and you don’t know what to say, here is a great video to help better understand empathy vs. sympathy.
My favorite highlights from the short:
- Rarely does an empathic response begin with “at least”
- A good response is: “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”
- Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.
Hopefully these tips will help you the next time someone you know experiences a loss, so that you will know how to respond and are better able to help them through their time of mourning.
What has helped you cope with a loss?