Five Ways You Can Use Your Own Experience Of Loss To Help Others Who Are Grieving

By Gloria Horsley

Loss has a way of hitting you like a ton of bricks. It happens when you least expect it, and it completely knocks the wind out of you. Even when you can see a loss on the horizon, nothing can prepare you for the pain you’ll feel.

One day, you’ll find yourself living a new normal and will have the unique opportunity to help others who are grieving. While the pain of loss may still be a daily occurrence for you, you can use what you’ve learned to comfort a friend, colleague, employee or family member who is suffering. Helping others through the lens of your own experience can be therapeutic, even as you continue to mourn your own loss. By using your experience to help and lead others in the world — whether it’s a grieving employee or close friend — your support can be a welcome balm for many during their time of need.  

1. Offer Flexibility When You Can

In the initial shock of a loss, people need grace wherever they can get it. If you’re in a position to remove the burden of work, social or other responsibilities from the grieving person, do it. Recall the raw emotions of your loss and how those feelings made you practically blind to everyone and everything else. Use your understanding of that gut-wrenching feeling to advocate for them.

The bereaved person’s head and heart are on a roller coaster of emotions, and they should be given space to process their grief. If you don’t have the power to give them flexibility, support them in other ways. Offer to take other things off of their plate so their load is lighter.

2. Step In And Take Care Of Essentials

Basic care and obligations often go by the wayside in the shadow of grief. Don’t ask the grieving person what you can do to help. It can be difficult for them to identify what needs doing or to pick up the phone and ask for assistance when they do. Instead, step in and take care of the things that might get missed. Small acts can be a huge help — offer to drop off groceries, deliver cooked meals or take care of the lawn and mail.

A mourning person may be spending a lot of time at home. They could be supporting family members with their own grief process. Help them manage the tasks and incidentals so they don’t pile up and become a larger issue to tackle later.

3. Give Space For Sadness

Grief doesn’t have a timeline. It comes in waves, triggered by a memory or nothing at all. Be helpful by simply allowing space for sadness. Your support may come by sitting quietly with your grieving friend or staff member, being available should they be ready to speak. You can also be a sounding board for hard questions they may face afterward.

Stand by them while they process the big emotions. By sticking with them, even when things get ugly, they’ll feel safe to express their sadness as it comes.

4. Listen To What They Say — And What They Don’t

A great loss can call to attention all of the things that were said or left unsaid, done or left undone. Grief can manifest in feelings of regret, sometimes heading to a dark place. Practice active listening when your friend or member of staff comes to you to talk.

Pay close attention to body language to get a good read on how they’re doing — even if it’s a Zoom call. If they report that they’re doing fine yet their posture or facial expression says otherwise, pay attention to that. When conversations repeat and come back to a certain memory, help them unpack their emotions. If they open up to you, try to help them work through their feelings.

5. Know When To Ask For Outside Support

Sometimes, a situation moves outside of the expertise of a caring friend or concerned boss. If the bereaved person is in need of a support group or grief counseling, know what signs to look for. If they have trouble getting out of bed or are unable to work, it may be an indication that additional support is needed.

After the immediacy of a loss has passed, most people can return to regular routines in a few weeks. They will still be processing their grief but can take care of their basic needs. If your friend or family member needs additional help, let them know that it’s OK to not be OK. Help them reach out to grief support that best suits their needs. You can assist them with making a call or submitting an online request for support.

Using Your Grief To Support Others

Grief is a lifelong process. As you help others, be sure to pay attention to any resurging grief you may be feeling. Take care of your needs in tandem with offering your support. As your friend, family member or employee moves through their grief process, your presence and support will be a comfort to them. In times of grief, it’s often the kindness, love and consideration of others that encourage the first step toward healing.

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