August 18

Grief and Spirituality: 10 Tips for Supporting People in Grief Respectfully


“What is the point of all these signs and symbols if they don’t mean anything?”

I was asked this question and I didn’t have a good answer, or even a bad answer. I was too busy asking myself the same thing. It’s called a crisis of faith and it’s not anybody’s idea of a good time.

Grief is on my radar, sorry to say. I’ve been connecting with people neck deep in pain.

Sometimes tragedy strikes good people: people who try to do the right thing, live in the flow and work with spirit, you know? Law of Attraction be damned, life goes beyond a simplistic explanation of what someone has attracted through their thoughts and beliefs. Do I think the Law of Attraction is real? Yes! Do I think it’s one-stop-shopping to explain everything that happens to everybody, all the time? Not even close.

And as gifted as I am at reaching for a positive perspective–if there’s an ounce of bright side, I can suss it out like a champ!–I cannot spew glitter and rainbows over raw, primal pain and magic-wand it into something lovely. Can. Not. Do.

Nor should I try! It’s disrespectful to treat grief trivially–as something to covered up with air-freshener-platitudes so as not to be so bothersome. That is something uncomfortable bystanders do to help themselves feel better around the grieving, not the other way around.

When a tragedy is on the news, or even a string of awful tragedies, you can flip the channel when your compassion muscles are overtaxed and you hit saturation. You may think “How sad.” You may feel shaken up and depressed, for hours or maybe days. Sometimes you donate to a charity, or light a candle or say a prayer or do whatever you do, just to feel like you’re doing a tiny bit to make a difference.

When the tragedy hits your circle–or worse, your life–it’s not so easy. You do the same things, I guess. At least, I do. But it’s different.

I can fall back on idea that people don’t cease to exist after death, and do come to the Earth plane with contracts, specific purposes. And many times those purposes play out in ways that we don’t understand. But that idea isn’t generally very satisfying. It feels too easy, too pat. It may be true–I believe it with my whole heart to be true. That doesn’t eradicate the pain.

But we cannot (and should not) try to sidestep the grieving process. It serves a purpose. Grief reaffirms the value of what we’ve lost. Grief is a function of love and connection. Grief says you had something WORTH caring about! Grief bridges the past to the future, the new normal. Grief is necessary if not tidy.

Truth is, each grieving person has to construct a personal understanding, writing their own story and meaning to attach to the event.

[bctt tweet=”Finding story is a way of walking the path of grief.”]

Some stories will ultimately help one grow, however awful it feels at the time. Other stories will fill a person with anger or engender isolation. Pretty much everybody is changed by grief. You don’t have a choice about the change. Only about the stories, the path you walk with it.

Being touched by grief can leave you feeling helpless, even if the grief is not yours. There are lots of tips for supporting people in grief–ways we can respectfully ease the process for those walking that path.

10 Tips for Supporting People in Grief with Respect

  • Be a witness. Do not try to steer the conversation to things “more cheerful.” Do not try to “bright-side” anything about the situation. Just let the grieving take the lead: sometimes they will focus on the pain, and sometimes they will seek distraction. The process will ebb and flow. Realize that being fully present and allowing them the freedom to focus on what they need to in that moment, neither judging nor flinching, is a gift in and of itself.
  • Accept whatever feelings come up. Extreme emotions can surface, including those usually considered negative like anger and guilt. Don’t tell someone to be strong, when “strong” is the last thing they may feel. Don’t try to spare the grieving their own feelings. They have a right to them! Feelings may change rapidly and will not necessarily make logical sense. Love and acceptance of the emotional messiness of grief facilitates its processing.
  • Do not push your own belief system. If your spirituality comforts you, great! But this ain’t about you. Allow the grieving to decide what comforts them.
  • Do not make social demands. Offer invitations, but do not press if the answer is “no.” Respect an individual attending to their own needs on their own timetable. Small gatherings with familiar friends and low-key settings are easier to manage at first. Understand the need for a fluid approach, allowing grieving people a graceful exit if need be.
  • Do not continually ask, “What can I do?” This can turn into little more than another responsibility in the lap of a person who doesn’t have the focus or emotional bandwidth to think of things that will help you to feel helpful.
  • Do offer specific, practical support. If you can make phone calls, run errands or otherwise help deal with the demands of the situation or daily life that follows, offer–but be specific. If you are extending a social invitation, suggest a specific activity, time and location. “Whatever you want” is just another decision to be made during an overwhelming time. Many people bring food. I know someone who drops off things like tissue, toilet paper, disposable dinnerware, paper towels and other sundries that will come in handy with an influx of visitors. As my mom used to say, “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.”
  • Handle your own pain outside the circle. Yes, you may be experiencing your own sadness and grief. That’s natural. But do NOT go to a person closer to the loss than you are to seek comfort. It’s not fair to make them to take care of you! Find someone further removed to provide your support. Never dump inside the circle.
  • Do not avoid mentioning the person who is gone. Happy, loving memories are both comforting and healing in times of grief. A grieving person wants their loved one honored, not erased.
  • If you’re concerned about a grieving person committing suicide, ask directly. Don’t hedge. Get it out in the open. You are not going to cause a suicide by giving someone “ideas.” By the time you get to the point of worrying, the idea has long-since hatched. If the responses you get are concerning, help coordinate professional support. Unless you’re trained in suicide intervention, it’s not really a do-it-yourself project.
  • Check in. It’s doesn’t need to be a big production. A small connection, a touchstone in the day, is all it takes. A person who was “fine” yesterday may be a mess today, and even a small dose of love, served up consistently, can be very grounding. Anniversaries and milestones of any sort are especially good times to check in.

And Don’t Forget You!

If you are supporting someone through grief, it will take a personal toll. Don’t feel guilty for your own sadness and stress, even if it seems trivial compared to what’s felt by people closer to the loss. Pay special attention to eating well, sleeping and proper hydration. (I know it sounds silly but it makes a difference.) Have quiet time to process and ground. Get your own support as needed–but always outside the circle. Other people’s pain impacts us and self-care is a vital and often overlooked component of effective support to others.

If you are feeling helpless, you can send love: imagine light coming down from the heavens into the crown of your head and traveling out through your heart, to those suffering. This is a rudimentary form of Reiki, and it does have impact. You can pray, light candles and send healing and love every time you think of it. You can imbue a gift with loving, healing energy and good intention before sending it along. You can memorialize or honor the person who has passed in countless ways–your imagination is the only limit. The big thing here is to take an action, however humble, full of loving intention. It adds healing to the mix and helps you at the same time.

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Tolle / Tips for Supporting People in Grief

Whenever we are touched by grief, it’s a hard reminder to take stock of our own connections and express love and appreciation for those people, right now.

Because that right now? That’s really all we ever have.

What would you add to this advice?

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Grief, Loss, Pain

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