Foremost, manage your own feelings about the loss; address your own anxiety, sadness, etc. first.
BE Present. Show up. Sometimes all a loved one needs is to experience our presence to help calm their heart and mind after a big loss.
LISTEN! Completely listen to their story without allowing yourself to be distracted, without interrupting, and without turning the conversation back to you with statements such as “I know how you feel”. Each person’s loss and each loss for each individual will be different. There is no possible way to “know how” they feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it is like for them. When we listen with our complete presence this invites the bereaved into a safe place to be truly seen, felt, and heard, allowing for their healing to begin.
Validate their feelings
Ex: It’s okay to grieve, to be sad, you just lost ________________.
Acknowledge the intensity of the grief and how it matches the intense beautiful love they had for “x” and how appropriate it is for the deep, primal grieving to be experienced as we recover from the loss.
Acknowledge how beautiful it is to see them feel so intensely, to grieve in such a primal way, as it is proof that they are so alive. Acknowledge how experiencing grief even in its’ darkest of moments reminds us of the deep soul-love we once had and how because this is in our nature, we will absolutely love on this soul-level again when we are ready to allow it.
Admit you don’t know what to say
Ex: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing or most helpful/healing thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just want you to know I care and am here with you.”
Rather than saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do” offer something practical and specific.
Ex: “I’ll come by tomorrow to bring by dinner for a few nights, so you don’t have to think about it”
Ex: “I do my laundry on Saturdays, so I’ll stop by, bring some coffee/tea and pick up your laundry for you so you don’t have to worry about it for a few weeks.”
Ex: “I’m going grocery shopping on Monday evening, send me a list of what you need, and I’ll drop it by for you.”
Ask the bereaved: “How can I provide the best loving support for you right now?” and be okay with the other person having no idea how to answer that question. Often, we just need to feel that someone genuinely cares about us and is willing to do “out of the box” things to help support us. It is the intention that matters.
Instead of asking, “How are you doing?” Gently ask, “How are you doing today?” instead. This acknowledges that simply getting through every single day in the crux of grieving is a challenge and allows them to reflect on “other” days, to check in with themselves and to see if they feel any better or worse than yesterday or the day prior and potentially link or connect that feeling to something they did, externally, to cope.
Hold space for the bereaved by:
Walking alongside them on whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact their outcome.
Give them permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. Often when we grieve, we become detached, in a way, from our inner voice, our inner wisdom and sometimes need a reminder that it is still there.
When the bereaved is sharing, after listening with complete presence, it is best to ask if they would like input and respect their answer. If the bereft has said yes, give them only as much information as they can handle.
Empower them to make sound decisions for themselves. Do not take their power away by making decisions for them.
Keep your own ego out of it! Their success/mistakes are theirs and not a reflection of you, your effort, talent, experience, or level of education.
Make them feel safe enough to fail. Hold space without judgment or shame and give them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they “fail”. When they experienced “failure” as simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up over it and more time learning from their mistakes.
When/if you are asked, offer gentle guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
Allow them to make different decisions and have different experiences than you would.
Create a safe space for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. to come forward. When people are “held” in a way they have never been “held” before, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that would normally remain hidden. These moments of revealing complex emotions may hold the very key to unlocking their healing.