Trying to help a friend navigate grief or a life challenge?
Its worth understanding that we are trained from a very young age and develop excellent skills in acquiring.
- Acquiring knowledge.
- Acquiring approval.
- Acquiring material positions.
- Acquiring relationships.
- Acquiring recognition.
In fact we become so used to the habit of acquiring that when suddenly there is a loss we feel betrayed and dumbfounded at a complete loss as to what we should do next?
I reflect that perhaps in our society we should be exploring ways of helping develop healthy ways to understand what to do in the presence of loss.
When we see someone fall over and graze their knee, we immediately know ways of helping them. Cleaning the wound, applying a Band-Aid. We have learnt this from a young age and it becomes instinctual. In fact even modern medicine that may have been unattainable or inaccessible for many 200 years ago now is common knowledge to us all.
- Someone having a heart attack? You you know the basic steps for CPR.
- Someone broken a bone? You know the basic steps on how to support that.
- Someone is grieving? Watch people run a mile with a complete inability and unknowing us of how to support this.
This is not a personal criticism of those who do not know how to support grief. This is simply an observation that we are not taught the skills from a young age on how to navigate loss.
Grief and loss a heartfelt afflictions, an emotional experience.
Unhelpful ways of navigating a loss can include comments such as:
- Don’t worry you will find another…. (husband, career, pet, child…..)
- Time heals all wounds!! You’ll be fine.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Don’t worry! Be grateful! At least…. (you have your health, you have other children, they didn’t suffer, they’re in a better place now)
- Give her some space, she would probably need space right now.
For anyone who who has travelled the journey of grief we can all agree that not a single one of those comments is helpful or supportive of the grief journey.
Dismissing the pain and suggesting a replacement is simply negating a loss has occurred.
Suggesting that time heals all wounds would be similar to looking at someone’s broken leg and telling them to simply give it time without any action steps. (I know and have met several women who 20 years later are still grieving because simple action steps have not been taken).
Giving people space throughout the grieving process is a decision results in further isolation which is a common experience for those experience grief.
And everything happens for a reason? Well I have my own thoughts on that, however for now in the acute stages of grief I will so that most grievers will agree that comment does not encourage the feeling of being understood, heard or supported. It creates a feeling of dismissal.
So what are the first steps to support someone navigating grief and loss?
- I would suggest that the first up step is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be able to sit beside someone when they’re on an emotional rollercoaster and truly be present without trying to shift, change or fix the problem is the first step. Understanding that grief is not a problem to be solved but a journey to be experienced. It’s very common for those supporting to feel the need to fix, cure or somehow make things feel better. But simply being present with what is, is the first step. Learning to sit with, without running away, is an essential part of allowing the griever to feel supported, heard and understood.
- Have patience. The griever will lose track of time, get lost in thoughts, feel overwhelmed, reactive and foggy. Like any injury, this is not the time to pressure someone to get better faster, or to expect this person to bounce back to the way they were too quickly.
- Practical measures are helpful when someone is grieving. The simple practicalities of day-to-day life fall by the wayside for those navigating grief. Supermarket shopping, errands, bills will all become a challenge. If you’re supporting someone who is grieving, take the time to consider these day-to-day practicalities and ensuring that they are looked after is particular helpful.
- No words can help, but listening will. Simply allowing your friend to talk freely, to ruminate, to sit in silence if they want to, or to share all, allows the feeling of being understood and heard. Essential for the grieving process.
I hope these simple measures and ideas provide you with a few tools to help those you love with their grief.
Like to read more on how to navigate grief and loss? Read more here