mother and daughter supporting each other through grief
Healthy Living

Here’s How to Support a Grieving Family Member

Mar 7 2019
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Grief is never easy, but it is possible to be there for the ones you love

When someone special passes away, it’s always a difficult time. But that’s not only for the person going through the grief. Family members who love the person who’s grieving often struggle to know what to do and say to provide support and love. Not everyone is good at saying the right thing. What’s right for one person might not work for another. Understanding grief is an important first step in finding the words to help someone struggling with loss.

What is grief?

Grief is a strong, overwhelming emotion that can leave people feeling numb and withdrawn from normal life. It can make people feel like they’re unable to carry on. It can impact anyone.

The most important thing to know about grief is that it’s a completely normal response to loss. While grieving can look very different for each person, it’s not anything that anyone can control or prepare for. Sometimes it doesn’t make logical sense. Your loved one may feel guilty for another person’s death, even when they had very little to do with it. The emotional pain can hurt deeply. And that’s hard for family members and friends to watch.

What you can say to a loved one

There are a few things that the experts recommend you can say to someone who’s grieving. The very best thing you can say is whatever you feel in your heart. Your heartfelt words show your love and the fact that you honor and respect the loss.

A simple, “I’m sorry for your loss” or “Would you like to talk about them?” may be all it takes to reduce their sadness by even a small amount. Think practically, too. Ask if your family member needs phone calls or emails to be sent. See if there’s any business that they could use help with. Ask them if it’s alright if you bring over some homemade meals that they can put in their freezer and heat up. Find out if it’s OK if you organize friends to check up on them.

Sometimes, your presence may be enough. You don’t always have to say something. Just being with a grieving person lets them know that they’re not alone. You can simply hang out with them, do their dishes or just work on a craft. They don’t have to join in. Just let them be. Grieving can last a long time, and that’s also very natural.

What not to say

Most importantly, say something, even if you worry you won’t say the right thing. Never let your fear stop you from reaching out when a family member is going through a hard time.

Also, know that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Steer clear of any sort of advice that verges on telling them how they’re supposed to feel. They’ll have setbacks and even sudden highs. Be patient and understanding. The more you tell them that you acknowledge the situation, express your concern, let them talk and accept their emotions, the more they know you care. Be genuine when you offer support. Ask how they feel. Never presume you know what’s going on in their head or their heart.

Understand the grieving process

Grief experts David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explain that there are five stages of grief. Knowing these helps you support your loved one as they’re working through the process. The first stage of grief is denial. Often, this involves going numb and refusing to accept reality. Once your loved one starts to ask questions, they’re getting a little stronger. They may move to the next stage, which is anger.

Anger can be challenging. A grieving person may lash out at people around them. They may be questioning God, doctors or other members of the family. Remember that underneath the anger is a lot of hurt. This is an important and natural step. Remain loving.

In another moment, a grieving person is likely to bargain. It’s a phase that is filled with “What if?” and “If only…” statements. Depression is another part of the grieving. It’s also part of the healing process. Finally, a person finds acceptance. But these stages don’t have to follow that order. Some last a lot longer than others. When you love your family member, you can still be there every step of the way.

Want to learn other ways to be there for your family member? Visit Mercy.com or call 513-952-5000 to make an appointment with a specialist who can help.


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