Grief is both an emotion and a process. It’s complex and non-linear. Anyone who has gone through it can tell you how the pain never fully goes away. It’s difficult and uncomfortable watching a friend or loved one who is navigating grief. What do we say to them? How do we support them? We can’t take the pain away, but there are ways we can approach our loved ones to validate what they’re going through.
Starting Empathetic Conversations
We often feel pulled to fix a situation when someone we love is going through a hard time. But to truly support someone who is in grief, we need to resist this temptation. Grief can’t be rushed and is such a personal experience. Advice or helping someone to think positively about a situation (e.g., “at least they lived a long life . . . ) can feel invalidating, like they shouldn’t feel this way. Even if that’s not your intention, it’s still important to affirm that what they’re going through is normal and that they’re not alone.
If you don’t have the experience of being a pet owner or haven’t had any close personal losses it can feel overwhelming. You can allow the person to talk through their memories and stories about the pet or loved one who is gone. You can also be a sounding board or sit with someone in silence. You don’t have to have the perfect thing to say — there usually isn’t something that will make the feelings disappear. It’s your presence that matters the most to the grieving person.
Take the Load Off
When you ask a person how you can help, people often feel uncomfortable or that they now have to mentally go through the list of tasks that need to be done. Traditionally, food is often given to help the family take care of themselves. This is still a great option! Other ideas could be picking up an Instacart order, gifting a GrubHub/Doordash order, doing laundry or dishes, or picking up the slack in a carpool.
If you are offering specific tasks you can help with, give them specific timeframes so they don’t have to coordinate with multiple people on when they will come by. If they specifically request that you don’t help, respect their wishes. Some people need space and others intruding into their daily routines can cause stress. Maybe laundry is a welcome distraction for them.
Grief can feel isolating, but you and your loved one don’t have to go through it alone. Here at Sassie’s New Home we’ve compiled a list of resources. You can also find your local hospice as they will often have support groups, resources, and recommendations for people who are healing from a loss.