Supporting Loved Ones as They Manage Grief

On Memorial Day, as we honor the fallen, we raise awareness of the complexities of grief.

This Memorial Day, as we honor the fallen, we also remember the families they left behind. Learn more about the complexities of grief and how to continue to show support for the bereaved.

Grief is not a linear process. It can look very different day to day, month to month and year to year. How can you help a loved one as they manage grief immediately following, or well-after, a devastating loss? Here are some ways you can continue to show support:

Ask, “How are you doing today?” – While asking someone who is grieving “how are you?” may be well-intentioned, it often generates a generic answer of “fine” or “ok.” Show more empathy and understanding that they are going through something difficult and experiencing mixed emotions by asking them how they are feeling in that moment.

Share Memories – You may be worried that asking about someone’s loss or reminding them of their loved one will be triggering to them. While they may be emotional in the moment, most people find that talking about their loved one enables them to feel more connected. Mention the person by name and share meaningful stories.

Alone Together – Sometimes people who are grieving find support in company without expectations. Allow your loved one to be “alone but not alone.” For ex., if you work remotely, you might offer to work from their home. Let them know that you’re available to talk, but that you’re also ok just being by their side.

Embrace Moments of Joy – While grieving, it is also normal to feel moments of joy at the life one is still living. This can feel uncomfortable for some, bringing up feelings of guilt or shame. Remind loved ones that feeling joy does not take away from or undermine their feelings of loss. Both can be possible.

Continue to Show Up – When someone suffers a loss, there tends to be a burst of support in the beginning, but it often dissipates over time. But there is no time limit on grief. Be the person that sticks around longer than you think you need too. Continue to check in, such as texting on their loved one’s birthday or on their anniversary.

Encourage Connection – Grief is one of the most unique and the most universal human experiences. Most all of us will experience the loss of a loved one and yet each person’s process of grief is distinct. Encourage family and friends to connect with others who have coped with loss to help them learn from their experiences and remind them that they are not walking this road alone.

Seek Professional Support – Grief can be a very isolating experience. Mental health professionals can provide your loved one important support and space to experience and explore the grief process without judgment or expectation.

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By Alisa Breetz, Ph.D., Senior Manager, Clinical Practice and Kate Sullivan, Senior Manager, CVN Newsroom