The Nuanced Art of Helping Someone Handle Grief

Grief Friend

Death is disheartening, it overwhelms the emotions causing unimaginable despair to those left behind. The word alone can bring a feeling of glum even when the deceased is not directly related or known to you. The uneasy, uncomfortable feelings are a reminder, we are not immortal. There is an expectation that each of us have an expiration date. Biologically, time runs out, as does the body. It is a fact that our bodies progressively show signs of aging, luckily modern society is beginning to prioritize self-care. This practice seems to be helping contribute to us living longer and healthier lives. However, despite the efforts, we cannot freeze time or deny the reality of our immortality. It can happen to anyone, anytime without warning bells to prepare us for the loss. The void can be too much to put into words. 

Some people’s grief seems incomprehensible, as they process the painful loss whether unexpected or not. Although, we might have the best intentions, helping a loved one manage their grief can be extremely difficult. The challenges confronted when consoling someone suffering is a bit of an art form. It is never easy to tell someone they have to move on after losing a spouse, child, mother, friend or anyone close but somehow there are people that have acquired a certain sensibility to soothe the grieving. 

My uncle passed away when I was 18 years old. I received the call in the middle of the night. My mother uttered the words we dread reach our ears one day. Lightning bolts sent shocks to my heart as the news was delivered. The relationship I shared with my father’s brother was a tight-knit bond. His death left an emptiness in our family. The days that followed will forever stay ingrained in my memory. It was easier to confine myself to an apartment alone rather than face the sympathy acts we see at every funeral. Refusing to accept anyone’s help or comfort, I remained in silence while I dealt with my grief.

This is one example of how people handle grief. Retreat to a safe place in order to deal with the feelings of never being able to see, talk, touch or feel that person again. Others prefer to have company give them consolation that everything will be okay. Each individual’s technique to process pain is distinctly connected to their being. We don’t really know what someone will need or how to help. 

We cannot resolve others’ grief but according to a recent article in The Atlantic, there are some things you can do to lessen the hardship. One of the things we often do when trying to alleviate grief is to find a way to let him or her know we relate to what they are going through by telling a story of our own loss. Looking back, my way of making someone feel less alone has been to share something similar to ensure the person understands it happens to all of us. It seems this may be the wrong thing to do because every person’s struggle is different. 

Helping Grief

On a handful of occasions when dealing with illness, my instinct has been to research. It helps me comprehend what someone else is experiencing in their own sickness or in cases a friend is faced with a loved one’s illness. Gathering information is useful for your own knowledge, however, might do more harm than good if you plan to whip out your encyclopedia while looking to make your friend or family member feel better about their troubles. Best to stick to emotional support instead of providing additional information that they have a) likely looked up themselves or b) don’t want to know. Grief is intense, as it is emotionally personal. Make an effort not to make it about the medical facts. The death of anyone has the endmost finality. Therefore, the subject matter needs to be treated with sensitivity and dignity.

Lastly, avoid a suggestion that death comes as a result of a decision made by a religious or other higher power, destiny or big book upstairs. Society is made up of an immense spectrum of different beliefs. Imposing your definition or reasoning of the ”why it’s happening” is a dangerous line to cross. Although you mean well, any statements relating to an explanation can be taken out of context leading to misinterpretation. There is an element of unfairness for anyone grieving. The feeling of being taken too soon cannot be rationalized. There are millions of examples of people being removed from our lives before their time. Saying to you, me or anyone, ”It is God’s will, there is a bigger plan” tends to fail. Why? for the simple fact that you are not providing a tangible explanation. Truth is, nothing you say will satisfy a prevailing grief.

You might be asking yourself, if the traditional ways of consoling someone who is suffering do not work. What do you do? Hard to say because everyone is unique in how they manage grief. Approaching me with an offer of sympathy is a hard nut to swallow. Probably, not what I want to hear at my time of sadness. One of the most important, if not the best way to be there for someone experiencing loss is to do exactly that – stay present. 

Most people have lived through a loss. It leaves behind pain, uncertainty and despair that is difficult to process. In an effort for human beings to rationalize the world around them, we may have forgotten that there are times when we are just meant to feel. It is the way to connect with others, as well as our inner self. 

The reality of death, whether imminent in a terminally ill patient, unexpected brought on by accident or impending misfortune, it is crucial to show up. Having the ability to stand by others and let them know we care is what most matters at the end. It isn’t easy to watch someone’s wellness deteriorate but the moment is about someone other than you. Lending your support to a loved one that is trying to manage grief doesn’t always require words. Sometimes, the strongest demonstration of reinforcement can be be standing in quiet revere.