Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Watching a loved one experience grief can be difficult and often leaves us feeling helpless. Gaining some new information, perspective and strategies can help you feel more prepared to offer your support to a grieving loved one.
Learning About Grief
What does grief look like?
Everyone grieves differently and for different reasons. It is common for a grieving individual to experience frequent mood swings. Some people may become withdrawn, tearful, irritable and visibly upset, while others may act as if nothing is wrong.
What types of life events cause grief?
There is no one specific reason to grieve. Grief can be a response to a variety of circumstances other than death, such as:
a new living environment
a change in caregiving staff
a recent injury causing limited independence
These are just a few examples of situations that may shift the quality of life and emphasize a feeling of loss. Consider potential reasons for bereavement and look for unusual behavior from your loved one that may indicate they are experiencing grief.
WATCH: VNA's Bereavement Coordinator, Jamesetta Roach, discuss important aspects of helping and caring for a loved on that is grieving.
Note: If you're using Internet Explorer, view the video by clicking here.
Interacting With the Bereaved
What do I say to a grieving individual?
Use your intuition to assess the bereaved person’s needs. If they avoid the topic, discuss something else. Follow their lead and adjust your tone to the nature of the conversation, whether it be somber, silly or consoling.
What can I do for a grieving individual?
There are a number of easy, helpful things you can do to offer your support to someone you know is grieving:
Regularly check in on them, but ask questions that aren’t too open-ended. Try “What are your plans for this week?” rather than “How do you feel today?”
Offer to cook dinner, give them a ride or assist with other practical tasks. If you can’t get in touch with them or they seem unresponsive, show up with food or take the liberty of doing those little helpful things, when appropriate.
Suggest activities they enjoy. Example: “Why don’t we go for a walk today?” or “Let’s go to lunch.”
How long will it take for a grieving person to finish their period of bereavement?
It is important to realize that grieving is a process and cannot be rushed. There are a few things to remember that will benefit someone during their difficult time:
Keep in mind that in the following days of a death or tragedy, your loved one may be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. They may appear fine or they may not be able to respond to concerned family and friends.
Be aware of any upcoming birthdays, holidays or anniversaries, which can be especially hard for a grieving individual.
Remove any timelines on healing. Let go of your expectations for your grieving loved one’s recovery.
It is productive to review your loved one’s progress, but don’t get discouraged by the pace of their recovery. When possible, try to continue the things that seem to provide them with some comfort and eliminate the things that seem to agitate them.
Understanding the grieving process is a key part of helping you figure out your role in your loved one’s journey to healing. Though there are many resources to provide you with guidance during this time, the bereavement period is an individual one and requires different needs on a case by case basis.
Aside from a basic knowledge and understanding on grief, perhaps the most impactful thing you can do to positively affect a grieving loved one is providing your continual presence, compassion and support for them as they begin to adjust to a new, changed future.