Tips for Attending to Someone’s Grief

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Tips for Attending to Someone’s Grief

For most of my professional career I have tried to help people come to terms with loss.  The loss of the child they had hoped for and the adaptation to the one they had; the loss of a job that they wanted or had; the loss of a relationship, the loss of a sense of self; the loss of a loved one.


I have written and spoken about what is helpful to do or say to yourself and to others when we or those close to us are experiencing loss.  We each experience loss in our own way. Some people were encouraged from an early age to “buck up” and get through it. They were admonished from crying, dissuaded from thinking about their loss.  Others were encouraged to express their feelings and take the time needed to feel what the loss meant to them. Often our style is determined by our own or others’ expectations of what we “should” do and how we “should” behave. Sometimes it is cultural, sometimes gender or age specific. Within the same family there can be a variety of styles and experiences of coming to terms with the reality of the loss. It is helpful if we can be aware of NOT imposing our way onto someone else. Similarly, we are wise if we can discover our own way of grieving that feels right and natural and authentic.


Grief often requires that we meandering through it. Usually grief comes and goes in waves.  And, as with an ocean, there will be sets of tumultuous waves along with unseen and unexpected undertows and currents.  There can also be calm. We try to predict but we never know what will be the catalyst for a particular emotional response.  But even when the surface of the sea is raging, there is calm deep below.  We all have the capacity to go to the depth of our sea (our soul) to find calm.  For some of us this is a solitary experience and for others it happens with a friend or in group; or maybe a bit of both. When grief beckons, it’s best to respond. Sometimes, if we are busy and distracted we are not present to those emotions. But that does not mean we do not feel them or that they are not part of us and in our body. We need to pay attention. Yes, we can put things aside for awhile…but unless we pay attention, we risk missing an opportunity to process our grief, and the magnitude of the loss.


When we are fortunate enough to be asked to sit with someone who is experiencing loss, the most welcoming response we can offer is to be there with them. When we are present they feel supported.  And if the person wants to talk, we listen.  We listen with our heart.  We are not there to advise unless asked.  And then, we try to get into the other person’s head and heart and with as much empathy as we can muster, we offer our thoughts.  We do not have to be brilliant. We do need to be kind and compassionate.  The waves will come.  Confusion and grief go hand in hand so the presence of a friend helps to steady the person who is grieving.


An act of kindness can be to listen to someone who is grieving. We may be there to listen to their silence with them.


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