How to Best Support Someone Who Is Experiencing a Loss


pexels-photo-951290.jpegLoss is a certainty of life at some point[s] in our lives. It can be experienced through a divorce, life-threatening illness, job retirement, or addiction. Loss is very personally experienced, yet it is a common phenomenon with centrally shared feelings. Support can make the difference in whether we summon the courage to fight our way back into ‘life’.

We may want to reach out and lend a hand in showing our support for those who have experienced a loss. Sometimes, it can be confusing as to the best way to do just that. What do we say, how do we act, how can we help? Well each individual is different and experiences loss differently. Often, loss occurs in stages as does grief-the process of grieving and mourning an absence. We must be mindful that, as we seek the best ways to demonstrate our supportive aim, we can’t actually mourn for someone else’s loss. That’s too personally felt. We simply can’t really grieve for someone else who is impacted by a loss. We can, however, be empathic, sensitive and compassionate to that other person. Exactly how?

There are some general do’s and don’t’s regarding helping people cope with a loss in their lives. Use this to help guide your efforts.

Do

  • Express your condolences. A simple, sincere “I’m so sorry for your loss,” a soft hand on a shoulder or a caring hug are usually perfect.
  • Be present. Stay in touch even when others begin to disappear.
  • Show you genuinely care through kind words and actions. It’s OK to also show that you care with your tears of sorrow.
  • Be a safe harbor for others to express their feelings. Allow them to grieve without fear of being judged, analyzed, fixed, cured, saved or healed.
  • Use your listening skills. Listen patiently, and ask open-ended questions to see how they’re doing, what they need and/or how you can be helpful.
  • Give them multiple options for what you could do to help. By doing so, they’ll know you’re serious. Listen intently, and do what they ask.
  • Give grieving individuals every opportunity to talk about those who have passed. If given the chance, you can also tell stories acknowledging the lives of the people they lost — the special qualities they possessed and their loving relationship with those they left behind.
  • When they bring up the loss, respond in a way that shows them you were listening, and that you genuinely care.
  • Give grieving individuals every opportunity to talk about those who have passed. If given the chance, you can also tell stories acknowledging the lives of the people they lost — the special qualities they possessed and their loving relationship with those they left behind.
  • When they bring up the loss, respond in a way that shows them you were listening, and that you genuinely care.
  • Ask their preferences. Ask them how they would like your support on special dates such as birthdays, “angel-versaries” (days of their passing) or holidays.
  • Show genuine concern, kindness, understanding, patience, empathy and compassion. This is a time to put your ego on the shelf and be of service to others.
  • Stay humble, flexible, relaxed and at ease when you’re with those who are grieving.
  • Assist them in getting the support they need. This may include professional help from grief counselors or coaches — or even psychiatrists, if necessary. Assure them it’s not only OK, it’s smart.
  • Encourage them to ease back in. In the case of grieving colleagues, encourage them to ease their way back into work a few hours at a time until they can handle longer stretches of sustained activity. (Also, tell them that taking a leave of absence is OK and may be necessary. Most companies have bereavement policies that allow time off, and many employers will make special arrangements when asked.) When they are back, support them to set up a “back-up” or “buddy” system in case they have a meltdown or need to step back and take a break.
  • Invite them (without the least bit of pressure) to join you for lunch coffee, or a walk.

 DON’T:

  • Don’t assume you know how they feel or what they want.
  • Don’t put a psychological, religious or spiritual spin on their losses.
  • Don’t use clichés — for example, “The glass is half-full.” Just be positive and supportive.
  • Refrain from anything that might be interpreted as a “Hurry up.” Don’t tell them, “You’ll get over it,” “Time heals all wounds” or “In time, you will have closure” or any similar types of advice.
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice or play “shrink” with them.
  • Don’t compare your loss to theirs.
  • Don’t suggest a quick fix to take away the pain.
  • Don’t take it personally if they’re not responding to you in the way you’d hoped. Remember, it’s not about you!
  • Don’t be insensitive. Don’t allow your own feelings of helplessness, impatience or intolerance of their continuing sorrow to cause you to say something insensitive.
  • Don’t ask how they’re doing or pose any other casual question. Tell them they (and their families) continue to be in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Don’t control the conversation. Let them take the lead on what they wish to talk about; and ask respectful, open-ended questions to draw them out.
  • Don’t avoid, gloss over, act cute, change the subject or pretend that nothing has happened — or if you do, that nothing was said.
  • Don’t smother them with too much caregiving attention. 
  • Don’t ignore your own triggers. Don’t hide, deny, repress, avoid, displace, dumb down or “medicate” the feelings of sorrow, anger, or guilt that may have been triggered by their losses.
  • Don’t make executive decisions about what they need without consulting them. Ask them what they would like to have happen.

 

The biggest don’t of all encompasses all of the other don’ts: DON’T ever say this:  “Just forget about it and move on!”, “That’s life!” or any words to that effect. It may be minimal or insignificant to you, but we can not and should not assume the same for another person. Be sensitive! Be supportive!

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Categories cultural competence, family engagement, Healthy Living, Perspectives, teaching & learningTags , , , , , , , ,

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