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The Best Way to Help Someone Who’s Grieving (Including Yourself)

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.” ~Walter Anderson

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of my stepmother passing away. I still remember that day vividly; I remember going to work like it was any other day, mulling over life, and then making my journey back home from work. As I walked into my apartment building I received the call from my dad to tell me the news.

I went inside, got changed, laid on my bed, and sobbed for hours until my flatmate came home and consoled me.

He then so thoughtfully drove me over to my sister’s place, as he knew I needed to be with my family, and still to this day I am in gratitude to him, as I was in shock and didn’t know what I needed at that point in time.

The topic of grief is very close to my heart for a few reasons, partly because my family and I experienced grief in so many different forms over the past two years, because I am still in the process of grieving the loss of a relationship, and also because I don’t think it is talked about openly often enough.

Grief is looked at as this icky, foreign, forbidden feeling when it is a perfectly normal part of life, and something that almost every person has or will experience in this lifetime.

While different people experience grief in different ways, there are universal themes that we can all relate to, such as the feeling of loss, hurt, and anger; and I am passionate about people feeling and being supported through the grieving process.

Yesterday I watched a beautiful video on dealing with grief, and the parts that resonated with me the most were around the concept of dealing with and accepting grief, and also how to be there for someone who is grieving.

When someone experiences grief, whether through the death of someone, or the loss of a relationship, job, or pet, there is no such thing as dealing with it or coming to terms with it.

The reality is, we actually don’t ever fully accept it or come to terms with it because we feel that if we accept it, that makes it okay.        

Sometimes we portray to the outside world that we are okay, happy, and dealing with it just fine when, in fact, we might not be. The world wants to see that we are doing okay and getting our “mojo” back because if we’re okay, that makes everybody else feel okay because they don’t have to see us in pain. And ah, the sigh of relief they can breathe.

Flowing on from this is the topic of how we can help someone who is grieving.

When someone we know is grieving, our natural human instinct is to try to cheer them up because we don’t want to see our nearest and dearest in pain.

However, in essence, what we are actually doing is invalidating how that person feels (unintentionally) because we want them to feel better.

I know from recent personal experience there have been times when I have wanted, needed to talk about my grief to friends and family but have felt forced to suppress it because of the discomfort it may extend onto other people.

It’s as though there’s a big elephant in the room, which everybody knows is there, but doesn’t feel comfortable enough to look in the eye.

The most supportive and kindest thing we can do when we know someone who is grieving is to be with their grieving.

So often we try to change how they are feeling, distract them from the pain or cheer them up, but the best thing we can do, as a supporter, is to just be with them, however they show up on the day.

Sometimes this might mean they want to see you, sometimes they might not, and other times they might want to be surrounded by as many people as possible.

Allow it, don’t fight it, and be okay with seeing that person in pain; you are giving them the gift of healing by doing this.

Focus on compassion, humility, and presence.

In times of grief, I encourage you to show up as your authentic self, which in turn gives others the permission to do the same, whether we are the griever or the supporter.

Whatever the catalyst for your grief, it absolutely must be expressed rather than supressed, whether the loss occurred yesterday, last month, or last year.

The painful and harsh reality is that we will never get back what we had, but eventually we will form a new normal, and we form that new normal as an expanded version of ourselves.

Allowing ourselves to go through the grieving process and express whatever emotions arise is a truly beautiful thing, because what’s on the other side of that grief is the ability to see the blessing and lesson; we begin to see the gift of this life we have been left to live and the sheer importance of making every day count.

So, if I may, I’d like to leave you with this.

How are you going to make today count, this moment, and this very minute?

About Nicole Perhne

Nicole Perhne is a certified Health & Life Coach, Reiki practitioner and writer. She works with stressed, overwhelmed corporate women suffering from anxiety, depression, a lack of energy or those struggling with weight and body image issues. Nicole’s highly anticipated eBook, ‘Peace. Love. Authenticity: 14 Ways to Come Home (to you)’ is due for release soon. Sign up here: www.nicoleperhne.com

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  • Annie

    Thank you for this article Nicole! I agree with everything you’ve written here. It’s been 3 years since I lost someone precious to me and during the grieving process I’ve felt and noticed same things you describe here. My family never want(ed) to talk about it as they are afraid they may further hurt me and/or they just didn’t / don’t know what to say. There were moments I felt like I wanted to to talk to my sister or my mom but a lot of the times they would refuse with “lets not bring sadness back” excuses. I don’t blame them, it’s a difficult situation but I wish they’d let me do that some times – without feeling guilty. It would have meant so much to me!

    Best of luck to you!!

  • Nicole Perhne

    Hi Annie,

    My
    absolute pleasure, I am glad my article resonated with you and I hope it has
    brought you some comfort, no matter how small or large.

    Losing people we love is never an easy thing, however, learning how to move
    through and heal through the grief is the beautiful lesson in it.

    Your Mum and sister are processing their grief as best as they know how and I
    think them saying “let’s not bring sadness back” is their way of coping.

    I do believe it is never too late to heal or to communicate with people openly
    and authentically. Perhaps start the conversation with your family and express
    to them how much it would mean to you if you could all sit down and talk about
    what you’re feeling. You never know, they might welcome it with loving arms.

    You aren’t
    alone in this and if you’d like to discuss this more, please feel free to email
    me at Nicole.perhne@yahoo.com.au

    Holding
    you in my heart,

    Nicole

  • Hi Nicole,

    I remember that I cried terribly when I found out that my grandma has passed away. The last time I saw her was when I was going out for a business meeting and she was sitting near the stairs. And the next moment I received news from my family members that she is in the hospital and in a critical condition on the same day.

    She was 83 years old and very independent. Always working hard to look after herself because she doesn’t want to burden my father to look after her if she is not well. I really respected her independent attitude. It has been 8 months since her funeral but I will always remember her for her attitude towards life.

    Since then, I have made a decision to do whatever I can to give my parents a great life by being willing to work hard in my business so that I can leave this world with no regrets.

    Regards,
    Edmund

  • Nicole Perhne

    Hi Edmund,

    Thank you for your comment and my condolences for the loss of your Grandma; she sounds like she was a wonderful woman and role model in your life.

    Grief comes in many forms and it sometimes gives us neither warning nor telltale
    signs that our world in which we know it, is about to shift dramatically.

    You said,

    “I will always remember her for her attitude towards life.
    .. so that I can leave this world with no regrets.”

    And therein lies the beautiful life lesson. It is an unfortunate and often cruel thing that
    in order for us to learn some of the biggest life lessons we must experience a
    loss, however, hold onto to this lesson you have now learnt and allow it to
    shape your world in a colourful, beautiful and memorable way.

    Thinking of you,

    Nicole Perhne

  • Darlene Chrissley

    Thank you so much Nicole.

  • Ron Blaylock

    Very well written and thoughtful insightful as well