How Do I Support Someone who is Grieving?
People who are in the process of grieving need support from their friends and family. But what is support, really, and what do mourners need? Two kinds of support are useful to mourners: practical support and emotional support.
After a death, for example, arrangements need to be made. Since those closest to the deceased are probably in a state of shock or denial, they may need friends and family to help them with the arrangements. They may also need help with other tasks of daily living. The support may come in the form of doing things for them or with them, or it may come in the form of advice.
Different mourners need different kinds of support and different amounts of support.
- Some people will need support in making decisions, and other people will want to make all of the decisions on their own.
- Some people would be lost without advice, and for other people advice is just a burden.
- Some people need family members to take over the tasks of maintaining the household, such as cooking meals or cleaning up, and for other people being occupied by those activities is a blessing.
It takes an observant person to know what is actually needed. And it takes a kind and considerate person to put his/her own needs or ways of doing things aside and respond to the actual needs of the mourner.
Emotional support comes in only one form: being emotionally “there” for the mourner. It means listening intently and responding empathically. If you tune in and really listen empathically, it will be easier for you to pick a response that will really helpful for the mourner.
Listening and responding empathically requires you to take a step out of your normal ways of thinking and “get into the shoes” of the other person.
You might want to hear “Everything will be alright” or “You poor thing” or “It is better to distract yourself by going back to work as soon as possible” or “I know you are strong enough to get through this” or “I’ve had the same experience as you” or………. But the mourner might not want to hear these things.
Responding empathically is actually not all that hard, and picking an empathic response will become easy the more you practice it.
Empathy is different from sympathy, is different from reassurance, and is different from advice giving. Empathic responses accurately reflect and validate what the person is feeling. Empathic responses can be short, such as “Yeah”, “Wow”, “Gee”, “Oooh”, or “Ugh”. Empathic responses can also be longer, such as “You look like this is very hard for you”, or “It seems that making all of these decisions can be rather overwhelming”, or “You look like that comment bothered you”, or “You seem worried about what to tell the children”, or “Finishing that part of the task seems like it made you feel good”.
Empathy is all about understanding a person’s feelings and is all about reflecting them in a useful way. Empathy helps the mourner feel connected and not so alone. Empathy also helps the mourner feel strong enough to tackle the difficult tasks ahead.
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