There are no bad questions, except when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one.
Often when we hear of someone who is in the midst of grief, who has lost someone dear to them, we may not know what they need, what to say, or how to act. While we are all unique and handle grief differently, I am sharing the 10 most common do’s and don’ts about what someone truly needs who is grieving.
1. Don’t comment on how we look.
“Have you been working out? You look good.” This was said to me the first day back to dropping my kids off at preschool after my full-term pregnancy loss of my son. We all know that when facing immense grief, our appetite weans and waves. We have no stomach for food, and often we lose weight. If you see someone who you know is grieving, do not mention how good they look. It is the furthest thing from our minds, and pointing this out feels offensive.
2. Don’t try and make us feel better by not talking about our recent loss.
Ignoring the grief we are feeling creates a disconnect between us as people and even unknowingly diminishes what we are going through. Pretending all is well makes us feel worse.
3. Don’t suggest we focus on what’s good in our life.
We love the people in our life. We feel grateful for our warm bed and hot food. And we feel grateful for all we have, but focusing on what we have does not diminish what we lost.
4. Don’t give us blanket statements.
Everything happens for a reason. Yes, we know this is true. And we will see it later on, perhaps. But following the loss of a loved one, do not tell us this because we do not care why this has happened, only that it has happened.
5. Don’t ask open-ended questions.
How are you? This puts us in a position to share how we are really feeling, and if you have run into us at a grocery store, we do not want to open the floodgates in public.
6. Don’t overstay your welcome when paying a visit.
When we are grieving, we do not want to entertain. After my loss, a woman came by to drop off a cake, which was nice. She then proceeded to stay for an hour, talking about her life. It was painful.
7. Don’t disrespect our boundaries.
If we say no to a social invitation, we mean it. Do not try and convince us we will feel better by going out. We will be ready to get back into life when we are ready.
8. Don’t tell us we should be over it by now.
How long we grieve will depend on the relationship, our coping skills, how we process our feelings, and our history of loss. Grief is the most universal yet most isolating experience we will have in our life.
9. Don’t avoid us or avoid eye contact when you see us.
This makes us feel worse, like there is now something wrong with us.
10. Don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.”
This puts us in the position to ask you, which we do not want to do when we are grieving.
We cannot have a list of Don’ts without a list of Do’s. Putting into practice these 10 things that will help someone who is grieving.
1. Do let us know you are thinking about us, that you are sorry for our loss.
Send a card, leave a voicemail.
2. Do share with us your own story of loss.
This helps us feel less alone.
3. Do ask us specific closed-ended questions.
Are you hanging in there? Do you have the support you need? Are you getting any sleep? Is there food in the refrigerator?
4. Do speak to us with words of encouragement and empathy.
Empathy goes a long way and feels more empowering than sympathy. We need words that remind us of our strength to endure hardship.
5. Do give us a hug or a touch on the arm before walking away.
Human touch is healing.
6. Do let us know if you can do something specific for us.
Help with a car pool, grocery run, errands, dog walking.
7. Do leave items on our front porch or drop us a text.
This puts us in the position of not having to engage in small talk.
8. Don’t forget about us.
We are so often surrounded by loved ones in the first weeks following our loss. When the support and attention naturally weans over time, we endure some of our hardest moments.
9. Do write down the date of our loss.
Sending a note on the anniversary of the loss, which are very hard days in the first couple of years, can be life saving. Most people forget, but we never do.
10. Do allow us to be someone we are not.
Loss takes time, and we will not be the happy, funny, or chatty person we once were. This part of our personality may or may not come back. Love us for how we show up in each and every moment.
Grief affects everyone differently, but if you have never experienced the death of a loved one that shattered your heart, you may not know what those of us who have endured such loss need. Take these suggestions and you will be helping in more ways than you can imagine.