How to help in a time of grief
At some point in our lives, we will all experience grief and loss. At some point, someone we care about will also experience grief and loss and yet this is a subject that seems to be difficult to discuss. There are many reasons for this. We feel uncomfortable around people who are sad and distressed even though this is a time when friends and family are so important. We don’t know what to say or do to make them feel better and realistically, we cannot fix them. So how can we help?
In this article I will briefly touch on some of the causes of grief, the effect grief has on the body, and how you can help. Most people believe that grief is caused by the death of a loved one.
Death is one of the causes of grief but there are other causes. Miscarriage can cause a grieving process because there is a loss. There is a loss of hopes and dreams as well as a baby.
You could lose your job that you love so much or have a relationship breakdown.
A loved one may become seriously ill or lose mobility so your life is never the same.
All these things can cause grief and in some cases, the person grieving may get no support from anyone because the focus is not on them, it’s on someone else.
I will give you an example, a young man attempts to take his own life. He was lucky because his brother found him and got him help. This young man receives treatment and gets love and support from his family and friends. The brother who found him is shattered, and his parents are devastated but there is no support for what they are going through.
The attention is on the one child and everyone else has to muddle through.
Now grief and loss which has been suppressed or ignored can cause problems because grief triggers the stress or fight or flight response. This response is a primitive mechanism found in an ancient part of the brain. It was created to identify and react to a threat as quickly as possible to keep us alive. Grief triggers this response.
A grieving person may experience a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness and shock.
If a person is not allowed to work through the stages of grief then they stay in this fight or flight state and this can cause damage to the body. Digestion can be impaired as well as the heart and lungs.
There is actually a medical condition called Takutsobo cardiomyopathy or Broken Heart syndrome which can develop after trauma. It can cause chest pain and shortness of breath. This is actual scientific proof that how you feel affects your health.
There are a number of stages to grief and loss. The first stage is generally a shock. There is fear, disbelief and trauma. There can be “Why me?” and heartbreak.
There are times when you wish the world would stop and let you catch your breath, but it doesn’t.
Then there is sadness, loneliness and wondering what might have been.
There can be guilt or anger, the anger can be directed at yourself or others.
As time passes, we come to accept it.
Tears will still be shed, memories will be triggered by a song or a situation and bring a smile or sadness.
My niece died 28 years ago and just hearing “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison still brings her to mind.
There will be good days and bad days and life goes on.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the luxury of time to go through the grieving process?
But we have jobs and families and bills to pay so this is where we can be a good friend.
When someone is going through grief they do not need to be “fixed”, but they do need to know someone cares.
It could be a phone call, a text or a coffee. They may want to talk or cry and that is okay. They may need a hug or just to have someone sit with them.
The point is they do not feel deserted. Let them guide you as to what they need. It may feel really uncomfortable because of the pain and sadness and that is okay.
There are things which are probably more important not to do.
Below are some of the well-intentioned attempts to make someone feel better but should probably be avoided.
Don’t try to jolly them out of what they are feeling, that says they have no right to be sad or down.
Don’t tell them they should be back to normal by now because they may not be ready yet.
Don’t change the subject, they need to talk it out.
Don’t trivialise their feelings, they don’t need to feel worthless.
Unless they ask you, don’t bring up what you would do or how you have handled grief.
Everyone grieves differently.
We cannot “fix” a person who is grieving. We cannot change things or make things better. Everyone needs time and space to grieve and to have their feelings acknowledged.
Being around someone who is grieving is hard because it reminds us of our own losses and because we don’t know what to do or say.
One of the greatest gifts we can give is to allow someone to be sad in our presence, to just be with them through this experience.
Someone who works through the grieving process will come out of the fight-or-flight response.
They can then move on to whatever their new life will be.
Loss and grief are a part of living.
At some point will we all experience grief.
Be the person you would like to be there for you.