Six Ways to Help Someone Who is in Grief or Depression

Beautiful flowers can be an uplifting gift. When giving to someone who is grieving make sure the item is something they can enjoy or is useful and does not require a lot of extra care or maintenance. (Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

Beautiful flowers can be an uplifting gift. When giving to someone who is grieving make sure the item is something they can enjoy or is useful and does not require a lot of extra care or maintenance.
(Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

“Let me know if there is anything I can do”.

It’s a phrase well meant, but in a culture that doesn’t support grieving it has become uncomfortably hollow. It may be more helpful to ask: “What do you need right now?”. A person may not know what they need or they may surprise you with a very direct answer: “a hug”, “money for groceries”, “please call me every week just to make sure I’m okay”. This is your opportunity to support them with a commitment of help (and following-through is very important).  Many people who are suffering loss whether it be of a loved one, health, home or relationship also suffer the compounded loss of friends and family who “disappear” during crisis. Don’t allow your worries about saying or doing the wrong thing prevent you from reaching out and giving in a heartfelt way.

Be mindful, be generous, and of course be creative!

  1. Stay in Touch- Whether it be by phone, mail, social media or in person let people know you are there for them. Often when one is grieving it is difficult to return calls or respond to invitations. If that is the case, just know that their receiving a message of, “Hi, I’m thinking about you today”, can be powerfully uplifting to the spirit. People who are in sadness often feel foggy and you can help anchor them into a pleasant routine by reaching out to them at regular times during the day, week or month.
  2. Extend an Invitation- The old saying “A change of scenery will do you good” still rings true and you can help by treating a person who is feeling down to a concert, film, walk in nature or trip to the museum. When someone is depressed it is often difficult for them to be around crowds, noise or a lot of activity so be sure to check in with them first about their needs. Organize the details ahead of time so the recipient is not burdened with excess decision making.
  3. Listen- Grief contains a spectrum of emotion and it is important to honor it in a holistic way by listening. By listening we allow grief to come into expression. By listening to someone with love and an open heart we give sacred space to their grieving and serve as a witness to the process. Avoid your need to offer suggestions or try and fix their pain. The time you spend being fully present and hearing about how sad, fearful, guilty, relieved, angry or resentful they are is valuable healing time.
  4. Acknowledge Significant Dates- Time progresses in an surreal way for those in grief. A month can seem like a year. Years pass by in what seems like days. Most of their support will dwindle after the initial crisis so it is important for you to remember significant anniversaries and dates. Make a call of support one week after a funeral, send a card on the date a year after a loss, bring flowers to a friend a month after her break-up. A widow will find much solace receiving a supportive call on her late husband’s birthday. Much of grief is the fear that what we have loved and cherished will be forgotten. Let people know that you too are holding and honoring their precious memories as they grieve.
  5. Share a Meal- When one is consumed by sadness it is difficult to complete basic tasks. Make an offer to prepare food and bring it by their home or suggest cooking a meal together. When you create a handmade meal you are putting your life energy and love into that food and making it life affirming nourishment for both body and spirit.  If meal prep is not your skill then offer to pick dinner up at a restaurant or take them out to a meal if they are feeling up to it.
  6. Be of Service- To provide service to someone is to honor them with a gift of your time. Offer to tasks such as yard work, housework, washing the car or caring for their pets or children while they rest. Those who are suffering a loss of health may need help with transportation to appointments, buying groceries or running errands. Suggest setting up a donation site to collect funds for those who are suffering financially due to loss. Organize others so people know they are being supported by community. Don’t expect those who are grieving to ask for help, they are feeling low enough without having to summon the energy to request assistance. Find out what they need, be specific about when and what you will help them with and follow-through. Do each task from the heart, with gratitude and know that it is healing you as well.

-Singing Luna

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13 Responses to Six Ways to Help Someone Who is in Grief or Depression

  1. This is a wonderful, practical list. Thank you! In a way I think you are actually offering seven ways to help–the first one being the idea of asking “what do you need right now,” as opposed to the pro forma “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” The latter sounds more like a ritual courtesy than an authentic statement of availability and desire to help. Good for you for “calling it out” for what it is. Thanks again for this very useful advice. cs5711

    • singing Luna says:

      I am so glad you found the post useful. One of the kindest things someone said to me when I was grieving was: “Call me if you need to talk, I don’t care if it’s 3AM!”. I knew they were sincere. Although I never needed to call them in the middle of the night it was a great comfort knowing that I could.

  2. amandajanik says:

    (completely forgot to add CS5711 – oops!
    )

  3. amandajanik says:

    Thank you, this was very thoughtful and helpful. I am unfortunately one of those people who never really know quite what to say or do when someone is grieving. It’s so helpful to get some insight into this sensitive issue. Thanks again.

    • singingluna says:

      I am so glad to hear it was helpful to you! Grief is such a complex emotion that sometimes we can lose sight of the importance of being caring and forgiving toward ourselves when we are not able to meet our own expectations of responding to someone else’s pain.

  4. kjones913 says:

    I’ve experienced many losses over the last three years from the loss of a job to the loss of a beloved family member. This blog post was especially touching to me because was in that fog for a long time and my friends have been extremely suportive! They drove me to the store, cooked my family food, and offered to help me clean. They are still there for me every week. If they think I’m getting foggy again they surprise me with a movie date or just a walk through the park. I hope that I can show them the same support when they need it. cs 57.11

  5. rbenn24 says:

    Your words almost sound like they should be common knowledge, but sadly we know this is not the case. When I had a tubular pregnancy that burst and almost killed me, I had a lot of people would said “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” and then I never heard from them. I felt even more depressed when my “friends” left me alone in my head. I think we should send the post to the world and hope they take it to heart. #CS5711

    • singingluna says:

      What you describe is a situation with multi-layers of grief- so difficult to sort through! I hope you have found ways to process your deep feelings.

      • rbenn24 says:

        It has been 4 years since the loss of my baby. It took me 3 months to want to get out of bed and face the world. But after all this time, every time I look down and see the surgery scare on my belly it makes me a little sad. Thankfully I am in a much better mental place. Thank you for your concern.

  6. Singing Luna, thank you! This is so helpful. As a society we all experience grief at some time in our lives; thanks for bringing it out for discussion and providing insight and tangible help :). cs5711

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