It’s hard to know what to do when a friend or family member is grieving a loss. We usually think about a loss as someone losing a person due to their death. But many different situations can create a loss and the feeling of grief, such as a divorce, getting separated from family members because of migrating to a different country or the death of a pet.
“It’s not about the actual situation or the person or animal lost – it’s about the connection that you had,” said Cecilia Ferro, LPC, bilingual mental health therapist at WellPower’s El Centro de las Familias. “When we go through a loss, there’s a tendency of having to go through a process.”
And that process is different for everyone. Not everyone will go through the same stages of grief, or experience them in the same order. Some people might skip different stages altogether. And although each person and situation is unique, there are a few things you can do to support your loved one when they’re going through their grieving process.
How to Support Your Loved One Grieve Their Loss
Remind them it’s okay to cry it out. When someone is grieving, it’s important they let out their emotions. And if they aren’t comfortable doing that with you or another trusted person, it’s okay for them to let their emotions out by themselves in private.
“Otherwise, that containment will come out in some other way, maybe through illness or stress,” Cecilia said. “When you have the urge to cry, let it out. Do not feel afraid or embarrassed.”
Give them space to talk about how they’re feeling. Talking about their loss can help a person process their grief and heal. They might want to do this with you, other family members or friends, or individuals in a group therapy setting. WellPower offers groups focused on grief and loss with others experiencing the same thing. Call (303) 504-7900 to find out more. Or, if they are new to counseling, and just want to check it out, learn more about our new, virtual TherapyDirect program.
And if they aren’t ready to talk about it – or don’t want to – simply sitting with your loved one and being present can be helpful too, according to UW Medicine. The initial time after a loss can sometimes feel isolating, and just knowing they aren’t alone might be comforting.
Reassure them it’s normal to feel how they’re feeling. The feelings of sadness that come up while grieving a loss are not only normal – they are expected. But a diagnosis of depression and the feelings someone experiences while grieving are different.
“People tend to confuse depression with grief a lot,” Cecilia said. “They might feel similar, but they are different. When you’re feeling sad after a loss, that’s a normal part of life. It is expected that you cry and feel sad.”
Offer to bring them dinner. Taking care of ourselves is often the last thing on our mind when we’ve experienced a loss. A person might feel dehydrated, fatigued or drained. And they might not be sleeping well. Ask your loved one if you can bring them a meal, go grocery shopping for them or take care of some chores around their home so they can rest. Taking care of our physical health by making nutrition, sleep and exercise a priority is an important part of the healing process.
Help them maintain a connection with their loved one. Part of the healing process includes finding meaning or a legacy that a person’s loved one leaves behind. Talk to your loved one about the person they lost, when they’re ready, and share memories you have about them. Or, share photos, visit the person’s grave with them or participate in any other ritual your loved one might have if they would like your support.
Movement and Time Can Help Heal
“Movement, in every sense, is part of recovery, especially in grief,” Cecilia said.
Your support can help your loved one move throughout their own stages of grief on their own time. And although grief is never fully reconciled, time can help a person find a sense of healing.
“One of my favorite resources on grief is David Kessler. When people ask him how long grief lasts, his answer is forever. It’s however long the person’s gone,” Cecilia said. “When you’re in another situation that’s not the loss of a person, like a divorce or the loss of a job, that could be different. But when we talk about a loved one, the feelings might be less intense as time progresses, but they are still there, and there is still an emptiness. Grief lasts a long time; you just learn how to manage your feelings or see life in a different aspect.”