There’s a catch-22 in grief support: because we don’t talk about the realities of grief in our culture, no one really knows how to help. This is true for friends and family members and for the pros. The people who can best tell us how to help — grieving people themselves — don’t have the energy, interest, or capacity to teach anyone how to be supportive.
So we’re stuck: friends and family want to help, grieving people want to feel supported, but no one gets what they want.
If we’re going to get better at supporting each other, if we’re going to get what we all want—to love and be loved—we need to talk about what isn’t working, and we need to talk about what really helps.
This overview page will direct you to some of the core posts and resources on this site, as you navigate this new territory of supporting those you love. A little bit of a roadmap, to make things even just the tiniest bit easier.
I keep trying to help, but it’s not helping.
Yeah. Even those with the best of intentions often come up short in the face of grief. The most popular, all time ever, post on this site is called How to Help a Grieving friend. It’s a fantastic primer on what to do (and what not to do). Click here for the PDF. There’s a cheat sheet pdf version of that doc here. We created a fantastic comic about how to help a grieving friend, here. It’s written about the holiday season, but it applies all year ’round.
I need a quick & easy to follow guide!
Okay. Here’s a 4 minute animation on how to help your friend. It’s a lot more simple than you might think, but it’s probably not what you’ve been taught.
This comic might give you some good ideas as well:
An encyclopedia of grief.
The blog archives cover a lot of territory. From my own personal grief stories, to discussions of what’s “normal,” to special holiday articles, to tips for helpers, there’s pretty much something for every grief occasion. Start exploring the blog here, and use the search feature at the top of the page to poke around in the archives. You can also search my library of articles on Huffington Post at this link. Reading through a few handfuls of these can give you an insider view of what your person might be experiencing. While you won’t be able to feel with them, you may gain a better understanding of how bizarre and all-encompassing their loss feels. And better understanding = better support.
Ask, Don’t Tell
One of the most popular blog posts in all of Refuge in Grief’s history is called Ask, Don’t Tell. You can find that here. This is a great post to see what “well-intentioned” support feels like on the receiving end. (hint: it doesn’t feel good.)
One rule to help you be a better helper
In this 7 minute television segment, KATU tv’s AM Northwest host Helen Raptis and I discuss why words of comfort feel so bad to a grieving person, what you can say instead of “everything happens for a reason,” and – bonus! – I share the one key thing you need to know in order to truly support the ones you love. Click here to see the video.
A better grief book: no platitudes, no easy answers
Grief books can be tricky. They’re usually written for people years down the road from their loss, when “rebuilding your life” seems a bit more relevant. Because those books tend to be full of encouragement, it can make you feel like your most needed role is that of cheerleader. Nope. Your grieving person needs the reality of their grief reflected back to them, in all its awfulness. I know that seems weird. I dedicated 1/4 of my book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief & Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand, to helping you know what actually helps and what doesn’t. You can read all about that book here. There’s even a free, downloadable card you can enclose, should you decide to send a copy to your friend.
Want to send your person a care package?
Awesome. Tangible evidence of love and support is a wonderful thing. There are a bunch of supportive, nurturing, encouraging-in-the-best-ways things on the support page. If you want to give the Writing Your Grief course as a gift, send us an email after you’ve purchased so we can get your friend’s information. And if you’re looking for a few other ideas, check out Teamotions: Teas for Emotional Well-Being, and Solace Club.
Wait. What about those stages?
Oh, the stages of grief. Those things are everywhere – and they’re wrong. If you’re trying to help someone by using those stages as your roadmap, you aren’t going to get where you most want to go: they won’t feel loved and supported, they’ll feel rushed, corrected, or misunderstood. Want to read more about those stages? Try this.
Looking for more actual training in this stuff?
Yeah! There’s real skill involved in supporting those you love – whether in times of intense grief, or just the ins and outs of daily life. There’s really never been a better time to get better hearing what hurts (there’s so much pain in this world). I’ve got a few projects in the works, including trainings for psychotherapists, doctors, and other front-line responders, and skill-building, encouragement-providing programs for anyone wanting to learn how to love others (and themselves) better. Keep an eye on this page for announcements on those projects. You can also invite me to speak at your event or training. And if you’ve got an idea or a request or a burning question about how to best support your people, drop us a line. We’d love to help.