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This is how to support someone who is grieving

A short and useful guide to supporting someone coping with loss.

It can be bloody hard to know what to do or say when someone you care about is grieving or going through a tough time. Maybe it’s a divorce, a job loss, or a death – it all hurts, and it can all bring on huge feelings of grief.

We all go through loss in life, but even still, it’s common to feel super awkward, or worry that they might not want to talk about it. You don’t have to fly in like a superhero and make the pain go away. There’s no cape required for grief support. But, there are some little (and very, very simple) ways that you can be there to help make life a little bit easier for them. 

Don’t be afraid of real talk

Knowing what to say when someone is coping with loss is HARD. And awkward. And did we mention hard?! You might feel pressure to come up with something profound or poetic to say. Our advice is to ditch the flowery language and keep it real. It can be such a breath of fresh air for someone deep in grief to hear some honesty. Saying something like “I know it’s a really crap time of year for you and I wish you weren’t going through this. I want you to know I’m here for you if you want to cry on me / have a good rant / have me make you endless cups of tea / chat about your person.” Real talk can be powerful.

Know that grief isn’t a two-month thing

After a loss, people rally around. Your grieving friend might’ve been cushioned by the support of others for the first few weeks, or even months. But as time goes by, life resumes and people can drop away. This is often when the person grieving needs support the most – the shock has worn off and they’re navigating life without their person. Know that grief doesn’t have an end date and your friend will be feeling the pain of their loss months, or years, on. It might become less intense over time, but it is always there in the background. Showing you understand this can mean so much

Authenticity is key. You don’t have to sound like a Hallmark card – keep your “sweetest sympathies” spiel at home. Simply acknowledging that the situation is difficult is enough. Grieving people appreciate real talk, so don’t be afraid to express how hard it is. 

Something as simple as ‘This is tough on you, and I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m here to show that you see their pain versus ‘My condolences’, which can feel like you’ve just Googled a generic phrase.

Say nope to platitudes (they really hurt)

What the heck is a platitude, you ask? Well, it’s a statement that people might use with all the best intentions to make someone feel better…because as humans that’s what we do, right?! “At least” is one of the worst offenders when it comes to platitudes, although it might seem like a simple statement. Saying things like “at least…” may come from a good place, but it can make someone deep in grief feel like their pain is being minimised, or that their feelings aren’t seen or heard. You could be surprised to read this and think “crap…I’ve said a few of these things!” but hey, don’t stress. Just remember next time.

Try this small tweak in your language

Asking someone “how are you?” can be so second nature, we might not stop to think it can be a tough question for someone grieving. They might respond with “fine, thanks”, but really, they are probably far from okay. “Fine thanks” could actually mean that things are hard and that they could do with some extra support, but might not want to open up. What can be really helpful is when people ask how you really are. Try saying “how are you today?”. By adding today, you are giving the signal that you are willing to listen to how they are actually doing and that it’s safe to open up. When a griever is given the opportunity to be honest about their emotions, it can feel like THE BIGGEST relief.

Thanks for being a great support person by reading this. If you want some more inspiration we have a whole chapter dedicated to supporting someone and much more in our book, Good Mourning: Honest Conversations About Grief and Loss (grab a copy here), and we also have a Good Mourning podcast episode dedicated to how to support someone grieving.

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