Grief Support FAQ
Grief is an internal, often overwhelming or devastating feeling of sadness, often associated with loss. This can be the death of a loved one, losing a career, the ending of a relationship, a pet, a terminal diagnosis, financial instability, or way of life. While grief is a natural and expected part of loss, the types and ways that someone grieves may vary widely. No two grief journeys are the same, and that’s totally okay.
Mourning is the outward or external expression of grief. Whereas grief is the internal, feeling side (think: anger, sadness, anxiety, etc.). Mourning may look like rituals or customs around death (think: planning a funeral, sharing memories, or wearing black at the memorial service).
There is no clear or solid ending point when it comes to grief. It looks and feels different to each individual and therefore very difficult to put any real timeline on it. Even after a person begins to heal or find peace around their loss, grief may ebb and flow over time- coming in with holidays, anniversaires, or other important dates, and ease over other periods. Creating annual rituals around a loss can help the severity of grief when it washes back in.
While there is no “perfect” way to support a grieving friend, family member, or colleague, know that simply listening—should they want to talk—is always a great place to start. Some other things to consider: Be available and stay in touch. Try to respect how they may be grieving, even if it seems odd or uncomfortable for you. Avoid telling them how they should grieve, or trying to explain the loss itself. Another thought: You could help out with tasks around the home, cooking meals, or other practical things they may not have the time or emotional capacity for.
This is not always straightforward and it will be different for each person. However, trust in knowing that if you’re coming from a genuine place of love and compassion, and understand that everyone’s grief looks different- then you will likely fall into the ‘helpful’ category. Just remember to be present when you’re with them, remain open, and make it known that you’re available for whatever they need. It may take awhile for your grieving friend to come around or be willing to receive support. The key is to prioritize patience and kindness.
Listen to your gut and look for cues. Make it known that you’re available if they need anything but don't force it. There will likely be days they want to talk about it and other times they want to avoid it altogether—let them know either way totally works for you. If you’re not sure if it’s a “let’s hangout” day or a “I want to be alone” day, then simply ask. It’s better to ask than not know or make them feel like they have to be the one to speak up about it.
The truth is, when we experience a deep loss, in our grief we change. Grievers may experience a combination of painful emotions, having to manage logistics of the loss, sudden traumatic memories, and secondary losses among other things. Through this, an individual will experience changes to their identity and how they see and interact with the world. For some it can feel truly all-consuming and you will notice a change in one’s behavior. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back and allow them to grieve in whatever way(s) it comes out- even if it means they seem like someone else. You can still let them know you’re available if they need anything, while also giving them the space and time to grieve.
It is true that a friendship may take on a different look or feeling after one of you has experienced a loss and is grieving. This doesn't mean you should ignore it or avoid talking about it. In fact, the opposite may be what’s needed most. For example, when the griever is ready, you may suggest swapping stories and fond memories about the person who has died. You may also want to add significant dates to your calendar (holidays, birthdays, wedding and death anniversaries) so that you can show up with more support or kindness around those times; letting them know you're thinking of them and available should they need anything. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge their progress, or to let them vent when needed. But be sure to also invite them out and treat them like you did before the loss- so that they know you still want to spend time with them even if they’re struggling.