A fulfilling job ends, a child leaves for college, an accident or illness robs them of some ability. And, of course, death brings the ultimate in grief.
People grieving any of life’s downturns stagger through a dismaying range of emotions – anger, depression, resentment, guilt, confusion, tenderness. The one you have the power to do something about is isolation. Your loved one has you, and that is worth a lot.
Ways to Help a Loved One Deal With Loss
- Just be there. Your loved one may not be able to interact with you very consistently, but just knowing that you are available whenever he needs you will reassure and comfort him. You don’t even have to say anything; understanding silence may be the best communication for the situation.
- Say the right things. When your loved one is ready to hear it, be prepared to offer comfort. “I heard about your loss,” is a good way to start. Honesty is the best way to continue. If you don’t know what to say, admit it. Speak from your heart; don’t shy away from talking about the loss. Chances are she will welcome the opportunity to talk openly.
- Don’t say the wrong things. This is not your experience. You’re not in a position to anticipate how the other person feels, or to offer unrequested advice. Let him take the lead. If you’re not sure that what you say will be helpful, keep quiet.
- Do something useful. Everyone wants to help when hard times hit, but it may be difficult for your loved one to muster the courage or the mental clarity to ask for help. Look around, think about what’s going on in her life and determine what you would want in similar circumstances. Tell her you will pick up basic groceries and when you will deliver them. Cook a meal that will be easy to share if she is having guests. Show up at her front door with cleaning supplies and set to cleaning. Shovel the sidewalk, water the plants, walk the dog, and let your loved one have the space to grieve.
- Absorb his grief, show him yours. Don’t expect your loved one to be on his best behavior. He may need to cry or talk obsessively about what has happened. He may need to be angry and unpleasant. Let him know that whatever he’s doing (short of self-harm) is OK. This is your chance to be his rock when he needs it. At the same time, if you share his grief, let it show. He needs to know that he isn’t the only one in need of a good cry.
- Don’t rush it. Grieving takes as long as it takes. For many people, it’s all but over after a few months. For others it may last years. Your loved one should gradually gain strength and self-control but her grieving may last longer than you expect. Don’t encourage her to get over it. Be patient as long as you can, and take a break if you feel you are no longer able to be helpful.
- Keep an eye on him. Grieving may take a while, but if your loved one isn’t showing any signs of gaining strength with time, he may be stuck in a depression that won’t let go. If you are worried that your loved one is in emotional trouble, suggest a grief support group (you can make it easy for him to participate by researching where and when such a group meets). You may also encourage him to talk to a grief counselor. If he’s willing but needs a nudge, offer to take him to the office and wait for him until the session is over.