Ways of Responding During Times of Grief

Grief is a natural response to loss, and it can take many different forms. Some people may feel sadness, shock, numbness or emptiness in the wake of a tragedy. Others may feel angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed when faced with a sudden or anticipated loss.

Grief can also manifest itself as physical symptoms, such as pain, tension, fatigue, headaches or nausea.  Each person may react to a loss in their own way and these reactions may be influenced by beliefs, customs or societal ‘norms’ or experience in expressing and/or suppressing emotions.

How to Respond

When someone we know is grieving, it can be difficult to know how to respond due to our own emotional discomfort or fear of saying or doing something that may or may not have the impact we were hoping for.

We may feel uncomfortable or helpless, not sure what to say or do to make things better.  It can be difficult to accept that we have little control over another person’s emotions while acknowledging that our presence and support may be of value to the person who is grieving. 

It is important to recognize that while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are some things you can do to help yourself and others in times of grief. 

While it is difficult to accept that we cannot take away the pain of a loss, we can provide our presence and acknowledgment of whatever emotions the person is experiencing in the moment.

How to Respond to Someone Who is Grieving:

  • Check-in on Your Loved One– A simple text or phone call expressing that you are thinking about them may go a long way.  
  • Listen with empathy and understanding- Let the person talk about their loved one and their feelings. Just listening and authentically responding with a solid presence is often the best thing that you can do.  To create a safe space to open up an opportunity to be a listener, you might consider saying “I am here for you and if and when you are ready to talk about how this is impacting you, I will be ready to listen.”
  • Allow Silence– Consider offering a space filled with your presence and silence by stating “You don’t have to talk right now.  I can just be here with you, you don’t have to be alone while you are going through this.”
  • Acknowledge the loss– If a loved one has just experienced a loss, consider that person’s relationship and the impact that loss may have on your loved one.  Depending on your level of closeness, you may consider saying “I may not know what this feels like for you, but I can see that this person was important to you.”
  • Validate the grieving process– It may be an important gesture to reassure your loved one that the grieving process is unique to everyone and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  This may be especially helpful for loved ones who are struggling with fluctuating periods of highs and lows- when you notice a loved one saying “This loss happened ‘X amount of time’ ago, I shouldn’t still be this upset.”.  The grief process is not linear and there will be easier days and harder days mixed together or spread out over time.
  • Be Honest– It is okay to admit that you do not know how it feels, that you can not relate to what someone else is going through or that you do not know the best way to respond to another person.  That honesty and vulnerability may actually help someone connect authentically in the moment.  

As a final thought, it may be important to validate that even with the best intentions, we might not achieve our goal of alleviating some of another person’s pain or may feel ineffective in our efforts, and that is okay.  The words that may help you or another person during a period of grief may not be helpful to another person, and that is okay. 

The timing of when certain words are said or certain questions asked may factor into differences in responses.  Be gentle with yourself and know that in being authentic and honest with your own feelings, you will provide a space for your loved one to be that way in return.

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