How to be present for someone who is grieving
When someone you care about is grieving, it can be difficult to find the right words or actions. Death is a part of life, but we still find these conversations uncomfortable and our 'Britishness' can mean that we feel awkward even in less complex situations. This month Amy Jackson shares her own experience to give you some sound advice on what to do...
What’s the best thing to do when a loved one is going through a bereavement? Up until recently, I did all the ‘typical’ things that we’re expected to do in these situations. Regularly check in, offer a shoulder to cry on, and of course, the classic British act of putting the kettle on. However, when my dad died in May 2022, I found myself on the other side of that coin.
Thankfully, I’m incredibly lucky to work at Dorothy House, where my colleagues were (and still are) wonderfully kind and supportive, and I have an amazing husband and group of friends who looked after me. It was thanks to those people that during those early days of grief, I began to learn about what was actually helpful at such a difficult time…
1: Regularly check in, but give them space
This is probably the simplest but most important. In those first few days, messages from friends and colleagues meant the absolute world. You don’t have to write an essay - even the short and sweet “I’m thinking of you” messages can make such a difference. Don’t always expect a reply though. There were times when looking at my phone and responding to messages was the last thing I wanted to do, but there were other times when it the biggest comfort.
2: Acknowledge what they’re going through
One of the most powerful things someone said to me shortly after my dad died was “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it.”
Believe me, ignoring the elephant in the room is not the way to go. Don’t just assume that they don’t want to talk about their loss. For me, it was all I wanted to talk about. Just by acknowledging the situation, you’re letting the person know that it’s okay for them to talk about it if they want to.
3: Be practical when it comes to gifts
If you can afford to, sending someone a gift to let them know you’re thinking of them is a wonderful gesture. However, there are a few things to be mindful of. In one instance, I was sent a beautiful flower arrangement, which is lovely, but what made it even better is that they were pre-cut so I could just pop them in a vase with minimal effort!
Pampering products can also be quite popular in these cases, but realistically, it’s unlikely they’ll be wanting to go all out with a bubble bath and a face mask – I certainly didn’t! If you’re wanting to go down the self-care route, products that require minimal effort to use, such as hand lotion or lip balm will go down far better!
4: Be specific
How many times have you heard or even used the phrase “let me know if you need anything?” We’ve all done it, and while we absolutely mean it with the best intentions, anyone who has ever been through a bereavement will know that this phrase is a little too vague. Can you pick them up some groceries? Clean their house for them? Pick their kids up from school? Specific offers of help are more useful than generic ones!
Remember, you don’t have to jump through hoops or make extravagant gestures to show someone who’s grieving that you care. Believe me, it’s the little things that matter the most. On a final note, it’s also important to remember to look after yourself, even more so if you’ve also been affected by the situation. Check in with how you’re doing, and keep an eye out for signs that you need to take some time to relax and recharge.