Ways to Refer a Loved One to Grief SupportJul 06, 2022
by Kim Hanlon
We have had the pleasure of partnering with BraveMaker Media as grief consultants for their feature film, Last Chance Charlene. This film has been featured in various film festivals, including Cinequest and the upcoming BraveMaker FilmFest in Redwood City July 7th - 10th. Click here to learn more about ways to view the film. We definitely recommend watching it. Film trigger warning: Grief by suicide. You can also download the free companion Grief & Discussion guide that we created with BraveMaker to help process the film: https://www.yahdavhanlon.com/lastchancecharlene
Film Synopsis: Last Chance Charlene follows actress and screenwriter Charlene Tucci as she struggles through her grief following the suicide death of her brother, Dominick. She cries while opening up to her sister-in-law, Ayla, that she doesn’t know how to grieve and doesn’t know if she is grieving at all. The film beautifully displays how grief can affect all aspects of life from marriage to parenting to career. It illustrates many grief myths and highlights many ways people act and things people say that are simply not helpful or comforting. It’s a powerful film that raises many poignant topics and is a great way to start a dialogue about these important conversations. As Charlene says in the movie (paraphrased), “I want to make a film about suicide to get people talking about it because people really suck at it.’
We don’t believe this blog post contains any movie spoilers or triggers. We do still recommend that you watch the film!
This post reflects on how we refer someone to grief support after a loss. Charlene had her therapist husband recommending books, her sister-in-law Ayla recommending therapy, and a church acquaintance cajoling her to come to a service.
It is so hard to see someone struggle, and many of us feel pulled to help a hurting loved one. We may bring a casserole, or suggest a weekly walk, or help them to reenter the dating scene following a breakup. There are many wonderful ways we can be there (albeit some things may be more helpful than others) - and we have some tips for how to support a griever without making them work for it.
Sometimes we see our person in pain and feel strongly that they should see a professional to help them through the difficult time. We LOVE to see how friends and family show up positively for their grieving people - and also have some suggestions into how to make the referral to a specialist.
- First, it helps to understand that grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss*. Someone is not broken because they are having a difficult time. Grief is HARD and it will look different for each of us. There are dozens of losses we may grieve (in addition to death and divorce!) - each can bring conflicting feelings as we navigate the change or end that comes with the loss. Appreciating the breadth as well as the natural aspect of grief will better equip you to empathize and provide compassionate support. Our Emotional Inventory Guide can help you build appreciation and understanding for your person’s grief and ways you can support them (coming soon!).
- Before making a referral, ask your person if they even want one, and be ok with their answer. People need to be ready and self-motivated to make the most of grief support. Whenever we hear from someone asking to send their daughter/son/husband/friend to us, we always first ask if their person even knows they are reaching out to us on their behalf. Consent is important!
- Have an idea of the options. Therapy can help many people, and we recommend finding someone who is grief-informed, ideally in The Grief Recovery Method. There are an array of grief support groups- and not all are created equal. Many are open-ended and without a set structure. For some grievers, this may be just what they need. However, time and again we hear from grievers wanting to know what to do with their grief. This is what Kim loved about the Grief Recovery Method - the action-based structure was comforting. While she appreciated the community of her traditional support groups, she also felt frustrated as it seemed the same people shared the same stories each week. They seemed “stuck” in their grief, and Kim did, too! It also added a sense of hopelessness to her grief - would she also be 15 years out telling the same story on repeat without any resolution? So yes, we are biased towards the Grief Recovery Method. That said, when we have discovery calls we keep an open mind into what type of support seems best suited to the person in front of us and we happily refer out as needed to a therapist or other form of grief support.
- Try to not be offended if someone takes the same advice from someone else that they did not take from you. It could be the timing was right, or the delivery of the suggestion was more in line with what they needed, and it may also be that advice from you “sounds” different when coming from someone else. Charlene’s marriage struggled as she grieved her brother, and she eventually admitted to her husband that sometimes his advice made her feel bad about herself. The person who seemed to best help Charlene shift into being able to face her grief was an old acquaintance (Dino - what a gem!) who randomly helped Charlene on a rough night and showed up for her in the days following that.
- Different people need different things. In the film, Charlene had taken a break from her therapist, while her sister-in-law shared how much therapy was helping her grief. Charlene’s husband had sent grief books to everyone in the family, and while they each joked about Raul and his books, it was clear they also had been actually reading them, as they each quoted the parts that helped them.
- You may wonder if it is “too soon” for grief support. There is technically no “too soon” (or too late, for that matter). However, this depends on the individual. Sometimes someone needs space, or trauma support, or addiction support, or something else that meets them where they are. So while one person may be ready for grief support one week after a loss, someone else may not be receptive for years. In Last Chance Charlene, Ayla was ready months before Charlene - that is ok.
- There may be times someone needs extra support, such as near an anniversary or leading up to the holidays. This is a great time to explicitly check in with your person and their grief. In addition to your presence, some grief coaching or assistance in making a coping action plan could help ease the difficulty of a potentially triggering time.
- Is the person a minor? We are grief specialists and not therapists - we are not certified to work with children. That said, we can recommend many resources for children.
- Are you also grieving the same loss? Are you seeking grief support for your parents when your sibling died? Or for your child after the death of your partner? In these instances, sometimes the best thing we can do for someone else is to put our own oxygen mask on first. You also receiving grief support will help you better cope with supporting your loved one as well.
- A suggested script if recommending the Grief Recovery Method (again, once your person has expressed interest in a referral): “I have heard of this program that has helped thousands of grievers. The Grief Recovery Method is an evidence-based 8-week structured program that helps people heal from loss of any kind. I can send you the link to schedule a complimentary discovery call with them, if you are interested.” If someone has yet to express interest you could say something along the lines of, “I know of a powerful grief recovery program. Whenever you are ready, please know I am happy to share more and introduce you to a grief specialist.”
Charlene started to find hope amidst her grief once she connected with family and started talking more about her feelings. It took her months to get to that point of opening up. Each person has their own grief journey.
Thank you for caring for your griever. We hope you are able to care for your own heart, too. If you have any further questions, please reach out or schedule a complimentary call.
A closer look at the different grief support options:
- Therapy: Therapy is typically relatively open-ended and one is able to explore a range of concerns outside of grief as well. There are many approaches to therapy, and it is a personal journey to finding both the approach as well as the right individual you connect with. The “right” therapist for one person may be ill-suited for another person’s personality, needs, or other circumstances.
- Traditional grief support: Many grief support groups are open-ended or even drop-in groups where people can share what is present for them in their grief. It can be helpful to know one is not alone, however the lack of structure for many groups can eventually contribute to people feeling “stuck” in their grief. If the group is large, some grievers may not have the opportunity to speak much in each session. We know some grievers will welcome the opportunity to be with grievers without having to bare their own heart. Some groups will not have a fee, however the benefits can be short-lived without actionable tools to apply.
- “Alternative” grief modalities: There are so many ways to heal and support grief. We are labeling them as “alternative” as you might not have previously considered them for grief.
- Yoga for grief
- Art for grief
- Music therapy and sound baths
- Equine therapy
- The Dinner Party
- Death Cafe
- Grief coaching
- Grief journal or workbook
- Grief courses - yes, one can even take courses to learn tools for navigating grief. We are excited about our own course to help one build their coping action plan. (Stay tuned for more details coming soon).
- Grief Recovery Method: An action-based, evidence-based 8-week program that helps someone heal from loss. We offer individual grief support using this method, and can refer you to colleagues who offer group options if you or your person prefer that.
*James, J., Russell, F. The Grief Recovery Handbook
Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.
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