That’s a really good question, and I’m so glad that you asked. (wink)
When someone’s heart has been broken, we want to help. It’s human nature and let’s face it, you are a really good human! The problem is that we don’t know what to say or what to do. How would we? We have not supported this friend through this experience before, we’re all new at this and doing the best that we can.
– Show up. Call, text, email, drop a card in the mail. Let the one you care about know that you care. Grief doesn’t heal or go away after a few days. Keep reminding them that you care, that they matter.
– Please be patient. Shock often sets in almost immediately and can last days, weeks or even months. For some, it means that focus takes a walk and memory seems to be on an extended vacation. The one grieving may not be able to process what she is reading or hearing and may need to have things repeated, more than once. He may not remember what you told him a few moments ago. Please, take a deep breath and remember this is someone you care about.
– What do we hear or say? Just call me if you need anything. And we mean it, we really do. But can I let you in on a secret? The one who is experiencing grief may be too overwhelmed to make that call even if they are able to focus enough to determine what they actually need. This was certainly true for me. What I did find helpful were very specific offers. So here are a few suggestions to give you an idea.
– Ask if you can mow the grass.
– Call and say that you are going to the store for milk and eggs, ask if they have a meal for supper or would they like some tea.
– Headed out for a walk? Invite the one you care about to join you.
– Offer to take the dog for a walk or the children to the park. Ask if they would prefer to join you or have a bit of quiet time.
I think you get the idea. Specifics make it easier for the one who is experiencing grief to focus for a moment and discern what they want or need.
– Say their name! Say the name of the one that is missed. Tell a story about them, something that touched your heart or made you smile. Ask the one who is grieving to share a bit more. This is a gift that will always be cherished.
– Be the back-up. When a day or event is coming up that you expect may be difficult, offer to be their reinforcement. If there is an event coming up and your loved one is considering attending, let them know that you will be there for them. Shoulder to shoulder, it matters. Talk ahead of time about what sort of signal they can give you to let you know they need to have a break or even to leave. In short, be their safety net.
– Take a deep breath if the person you are supporting is unkind or short-tempered with you. Count to 3, or 5 or 137 before responding. What does your heart tell you they intend to convey to you? This does not mean that it’s necessary for you to be a doormat! As gently as possible, in a calm and quiet tone, respond from your heart. Kindness always matters.
– Notice language. If in doubt, ask. When my son died, I realized how many people were terrified of the word suicide. Because the word is so strongly stigmatized some would whisper or avoid saying the word. For me, that was not a concern, but it might be for others. Terminology can land quite painfully for some, please be sensitive. Again, thinking about losing my son to suicide, some would use the phrase ‘committed suicide’ this never bothered me at all. But I do know and care about folks who are deeply offended by that phrase. Notice, be aware and if in doubt, simply ask what is okay.
You are going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. The one you are supporting is going to make mistakes. Forgive them. Remember that we are all doing the best we can and let that be enough. What matters most is that you care enough to let the person grieving know that they matter to someone. That they are loved. Bless you, for sharing your heart.