How to Comfort Someone Who is Sad, Grieving, or Hurting
Practical ideas to help those who are hurting
One of the most challenging stages of navigating loss is helping those around you who are sad, hurt, or grieving. Each person has their own unique and individual needs when it comes to comfort and support, and it can be difficult to know how to appropriately provide care and emotional guidance, especially if you are grieving yourself.
Unfortunately, these challenges can often lead to inadvertently inappropriate comments that can appear as glib or unsupportive. That’s why it can be helpful to consider some of the best ways to help those who are grieving, what comments and actions to steer clear of, and what each phase of the grieving process might bring.
You’re not alone. Our team here at Lantern is dedicated to helping you and your loved ones through each stage of the grieving process. In addition to sharing tools and resources for managing logistics after loss, we also provide the support and guidance that can help you help friends and family through the grieving process. Here are just a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when comforting someone who is hurting.
At End of Life
Grieving is not exclusive to death. If you have friends or family members who are helping their loved ones through the end of life journey, they are likely experiencing a great many emotions, including sadness, guilt, and even relief.
It can be difficult for them to grieve, because they must often put on a strong face for the others around them, especially for the person who is on the journey, and that can lead to a sense of helplessness and loneliness. Here are a few methods to consider when comforting a friend going through this process.
Take On Tasks
Helping with responsibilities is not exclusive to those navigating the end-of-life process with friends or family, but it can be very helpful and reassuring. If your friend or family member is spending a lot of time with their loved one, speaking with doctors, or squaring away legal needs, offering to watch their children, bringing over dinner, or even hiring a cleaning service for their home can be a kind and thoughtful way to take their mind off the small things.
You’ll always want to evaluate your relationship with a person, to avoid being presumptuous or adding another responsibility to their list, but there are ways to help them with the smaller daily tasks at every level. Something as simple as giving a gift card to a local restaurant can provide them a night of peace where they don’t have to worry about dinner.
It’s important to note that you don’t want to ask them how you can help. This will often add to their list of responsibilities, rather than lightening it. Instead, offer a few options and allow them to pick which is most helpful.
Take Them Away
One of the uniquely challenging facets of helping someone who is guiding a loved one through the end of life is that they often feel they are not allowed to grieve. There are many tasks and steps that still need to be completed, and there is often no time for them to step back and manage the emotional facets of watching a friend or family member go through the process.
You can help a friend in this position by taking them away from the daily tasks and needs, just for a short while. That doesn’t have to mean a trip or something over the top. Treat them to lunch, pick them up for a morning hike, or have a movie night. The end-of-life process requires a lot of emotional labor. Helping your friend take that step back to breathe and recoup can make it easier for them to continue on the important and difficult tasks of the journey.
Be a Sounding Board
The end-of-life process comes with many challenging decisions. Your friend will have to make choices surrounding palliative care, their loved one’s estate and belongings, and much more. While many of these choices may be obvious, it can be very helpful for them to have someone they can walk through each step with, voice their needs and ideas aloud, and have their decisions supported.
Let your friend know with words or simply by being present that you are there to help them by listening and engaging with the difficult decisions ahead. Ultimately, they will be making those choices on their own, but having someone they trust to talk to can make all the difference.
Immediately after a loss, it can be difficult to know what to say or how to act around a person who is grieving. Here are a few important things that you’ll want to keep in mind to help those you love navigate difficult days.
Focus on Them
Instinctively, you might find yourself wanting to share your own stories of loss and grief, to show empathy to your friend or family member. While that’s perfectly natural, try to avoid it unless they ask.
Each person grieves in their own unique way, and bringing up your own loss can require them to comfort you rather than the other way around. You can make it clear that you’re willing to talk about your experiences but try to avoid centralizing the conversation around yourself.
One of the most important ways to support someone after loss is to be in touch. You may feel inclined to avoid an uncomfortable conversation or may believe that the person wishes to have some private time to grieve, but condolences provide a sense of community and togetherness that can be incredibly important after a loss.
If your friend or family member is truly seeking privacy, consider sending a card in the mail or flowers to the funeral home as a way of showing that you’re thinking of them and there to talk if they need you.
Let Them Be Sad
It’s very difficult to watch a person you love struggle with loss, and your instinct may be to try to make them feel better or to make the pain go away. The truth is, the loss of a loved one never truly leaves us, and trying to find simple solutions after a passing can inadvertently cause more damage than it fixes.
Instead of trying to solve the loss for your friend, allow them a safe space to be sad and mourn, where they don’t feel like they need to move on quickly or put on a brave face. Grief takes many forms, and each person experiences it in a very personal way. Let your friend or family member know that there are no expectations when they are with you and that you’re there to help them for however long they might need.
The truth is, we never really stop grieving for those we’ve lost. They stay with us throughout our lives, in memories and songs and places, and that can lead to a sense of peace and hope, but it’s often sad, as well.
In the early stages of loss, a person has the support of friends and family and many tasks to manage and focus on. But as time goes by, people begin to return to their daily responsibilities, which can leave a person feeling as though they are grieving alone.
When it comes to helping a person manage their grief over time, look to them and their needs to see what steps to take, whether they want to honor the person on their birthday or visit a place they always wanted to go together. Most importantly, allow them to talk about their loved one, remember them and their impact on the world, and to continue to make them part of their lives, even after they have passed.
Grief is complex, personal, and without an easy solution. If a friend or loved one is navigating the end-of-life journey or has experienced a loss, there are a few steps you can take to help them along the way.
Take the time to listen to their stories and allow them the space they need to grieve without pressure to move on. Help them with daily tasks, both related and unrelated to the loss, so they can focus their attention on what really matters, and take them away from their daily lives on occasion, so they can recoup and refresh, in order to face their responsibilities again.
Lantern is here to help you and your loved ones every step of the way. When you register for an account with Lantern, you’ll have access to resources, checklists, and support for navigating the grieving journey and helping others in your life navigate it too. Our tools and articles help remove confusion, answer questions, and alternatives, so you can focus on the things that matter most.