“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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.