Admittedly, it’s difficult to know what to say to somebody who is grieving. But offering advice is the one thing that makes me do the *eye roll*.
You may well have had experienced loss yourself and feel that you “understand” other people’s grief. I’m going to put this out there….you don’t. Every single process of grief is different because each loss is different. We’re all coming at this from our own perspective too. So what makes sense to one person, may not make sense to another.
You may believe that dispensing advice is the best way to help a grieving friend or family member. But, you may be less aware of the fact that giving advice can actually provide a roadblock to good communication.
What really happens when we provide advice?
Subconsciously, we are sending a message to the other person that he or she doesn’t have the resources to work through their own problems. In a fashion, what we’re actually saying is “you’re not good enough.” And by doing so, we also put ourselves in the spotlight and pretend that we ‘understand’ when we’re not in their shoes.
Combine this with the fact that grief doesn’t require a solution on any level (because it’s not a problem that needs fixing), then offering advice can be totally counter-productive.
The best way to give advice is not to give any advice at all. Do this instead…
#1 Listen deeply. To truly understand what somebody is going through, requires deep listening. Listen to the things they are not saying, as well as the things they are.
#2 Say something helpful. Ditch any temptation to say the usual unhelpful things (such as “at least they’re in a better place”), in favour of more helpful things like “I wish I had the words, just know that I care”.
#3 Say nothing. Creating somebody the space and time they need is so helpful. Let them know its ok to show their emotions when you’re around and don’t feel tempted to fill silences for the sake of it.
#4 Ask, not tell. Ask them what they need by way of help and support rather than make assumptions based on what you think.
#5 Share a story. It’s perfectly natural for conversation to flow back and forth as we talk about our own experiences. Assess when it would actually be helpful to the other person to hear one of your stories.
#6 Educate yourself. Understanding grief and loss will place you in a better position to be able to help. With so many free resources out there, it’s easy to access information relevant to what the other person is going through.
#7 Show compassion and empathy. Let them know its OK to not be OK and you’ll be around to support them in a non-judgemental way. Understand that they will work through this in their own time and way.
#8 Offer practical help. It’s just possible they would appreciate a hand with the washing up, for you to grab some milk, or take a turn with the school run. Ask them first.
#9 Be curious. Remain open to exploring what’s going on from them in any given moment or day, and ask questions if appropriate. I’m not suggesting you coach them but keeping the lines of communication firmly open, will help.
#10 Keep an eye out. If they are displaying signs of not coping with their grief, then encourage them to talk about that. Be open, gentle and honest about your concerns. Ask them if they’d consider getting some professional support or talk to their GP.