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Ways to Support a Griever Without Making Them Work for it

cancer grief grief support memories non-linear journey Feb 24, 2022
Watchful and supportive eye

by Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

It is very likely that you know someone who is grieving. Maybe even you yourself are grieving. 

Grief is different for everyone. It is uncharted waters with no real navigation system. We all need something different and often don't know what that even is. 

While there really is no one right answer, there are some things that you can do that will be more helpful than others. There are also things that are best if you stop doing them right now. Let’s start with things to stop doing.

Stop asking the grieving person to let YOU know how to help THEM. Stop asking them to let you know if they need anything. 

Why you may ask? 

Grief takes up a lot of mental space and energy and can totally fog our brains. In most cases, after a loss (specifically a death or divorce), there are many things on a griever's plate that they have to take care of (i.e. funeral planning, closing estates, Will disbursements, to name a few). They very likely have NO idea what they need and don't have the energy to try and figure it out to tell you.

Asking someone to let you know if they need anything can end up being even more triggering for them as they genuinely don't know how to answer you. This can be another stressor for them. Now they have to figure out what they need AND share it with you.

Additionally, that is putting the onus on them to try and figure out what to tell you. More work for their already fatigued brain which can make your offer to help feel like another task for them to endure.

My bold assumption here is that if you ask someone how you can support them, you genuinely want to support them. 

So, to be truly supportive, it’s best for YOU to offer a concrete suggestion. You do the mental work and offer some tasks that you think may be helpful. This takes the pressure off of them.

Make concrete suggestions that give them the space to accept or decline your offer. Make sure there is no pressure for them either way. 

Important to keep in mind:

  • If they decline, keep asking every week or so and let them know you will be checking in again. (Please use your judgment on the timing). But don't give up. Tip: You can set a reminder in your phone or calendar to help you remember to check-in)
  • It is helpful to also let them know, that if they don’t feel up to it, they don’t even need to respond/call back (if leaving a voicemail, text, email, etc.). You can let them know that the offer still stands down the road, even if they don’t respond right now.
    • Important: if you make that offer and they come back to you a few weeks later, please make sure you follow through. 

 It can be very comforting to a griever to know that someone else is thinking of them, even if they don't take you up on your offer the first or fifteenth time.

Here are some examples:

  • What kind of pizza do you like? Can I schedule a delivery for you and your family for Tuesday at 6 pm? (Note: insert whatever meal of choice. Bonus if you're local and can drop it off.)
  • Which meal delivery service do you prefer? I'm sending you a $50 gift card that you can use when you'd like. (Note: If you already know which delivery service they use, you can email them a gift card with your desired amount).
  • Do you want to go for a walk? I can pick you up on Saturday at 2 pm and we can go to the Bay Trail. Does that sound good? No worries if it doesn’t. We can find another time. 
  • Do you want me to come over on Sunday afternoon around 2 pm to watch your kiddos for an hour or so? You can take a shower, nap, have some time to yourself? 
  • Can I come over on Wednesday night, say around 7 pm, and mop the floor, fold laundry and help out with any cleaning chores?
  • I’m running to the grocery store, do you need anything? Milk? Batteries? Tissues? Cat food? If you don’t need anything, no need to respond - unless you feel up to it. I’ll check back in with you next time I’m going shopping.

The more specific, the better, while leaving room for the griever to make alternate suggestions - or none at all. Remember, if you want to help someone, do not put the onus on them to come up with ways for you to help them. 

What has been most helpful for you as a griever? How were you able to support a griever?