I wonder, if like me, you’ve found yourself at some time scratching your head, wondering how on earth you could craft the perfect, heartfelt condolence message for someone in your world as they faced a significant loss.
As someone who has developed a passion journeying with people through their grief, I have created many awkward moments over the years, whilst attempting the most sincere and profound (spoken and written) messages to those in my world facing loss. I have also endured, as a griever, the awkward conversations and moments that many of us could likely identify with, when people have avoided me altogether, or said the silliest things in the hope that something might bring me comfort.
So, what IS helpful and what IS NOT? Everyone is going to need something different right?
It is impossible to predict what the perfect response should be in any given grief scenario, because as I’ve mentioned previously, the grief journey is uniquely different for every individual. However, I believe that it is possible to understand how to approach someone dealing with grief in a way that makes their journey a little less difficult to endure.
Regardless of the nature of the loss experienced, grief can be an isolating experience for many people. More so when the nature of the loss is not widely recognised or understood by others in their world, perhaps not even recognised at all.
Let’s face it, regardless of how many grief experiences we’ve personally had, it is never easy knowing when or how to support a grieving loved one on their journey. It may be tempting to avoid them, but this is usually because you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, making things worse than they already are or just not knowing what to say at all.
Here’s a few things that you CAN do to support someone walking through grief and loss.
o Recognise the stages of grief Please remember that it is not a linear process. Grief is messy and rarely predictable. It is Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross’ theory that we mostly refer to when speaking of the ‘stages of grief’. There are many theories on grief to be found, however there is a great deal of overlap between them.
o Recognise that grief may look different for every individual As mentioned previously, there are many variances in the way that individuals journey through grief. Never place pressure on others to navigate grief in the same way you have.
o Let go of any time expectations of how long their ‘grieving’ should last. Be patient. It’s difficult enough for the ‘griever’ to navigate this time, without having the pressure of a time-frame to be ‘over’ their loss.
o Try not to tell them how strong they are This is one I hear all too frequently…and sends me into convulsions! Grieving people do not want to hear how strong you think they are, or should be. They will have moments (likely many of them) when they just want to let themselves ‘feel’ the pain and the emotion it lends itself to. This is an important part of the grieving/healing process.
o Don’t be afraid of their tears and emotions Anything can set a griever off on an emotional downward spiral, but often it is talking about the lost loved one or situation that brings the most peace – yet it is the one thing that people avoid.
o Validate their feelings Giving a griever the opportunity to be ‘validated’ in their place of pain is absolutely essential. Without it, they will likely feel misunderstood and isolated emotionally. It might sound something like, “That must be really tough. It sounds like you’re feeling really overwhelmed and lonely at the moment, with your wife no longer here.”
o Ask them what they need Offer to do something. Anything. Real and tangible things. “Can I come over for a coffee?” or “Can I bring you anything from the supermarket?” “Are there any phone calls or emails I can make or send on your behalf?” – anything that’s an actual ‘do’. Grievers learn to hear “anything I can do, please call” as “I have no idea what to say and have no intention of doing anything”. Don’t put yourself in that bracket.
o Continue checking in on them Keep visiting and calling, especially after a month or two. It is common for a griever to feel abandoned after this point. Everything stops when the numbness and shock wear off and they find themselves in their life, but somehow detached from it. The calls, visits and efforts from friends at that point are usually very helpful and most welcome.
o Listen more than you talk
o Recommend help Find out who your local grief counsellor is. Mention their name and number to your grieving friend or family member. Encourage the griever to visit their GP for a check up to see if their physical health is where it should be.
This list is certainly not an exhaustive one. It is simply a place for you to start when you’re unsure how to approach someone in your world facing a significant loss.
Who is in your world who may feel less isolated and more understood because you take the time to employ any one, or a number, of the above mentioned practical ‘helps’ as they journey through their significant loss?
I personally believe that as each of us individually open our hearts to that ‘someone in our world’ journeying through their pain, that we play a small part in seeing their broken heart find the healing it longs for.
With you on this journey,