When someone is hurting we want to help. Sometimes, what we
think is helpful is actually very hurtful. Our history with a person, the
nature of our relationship, our intention, and our consistent efforts make a
difference in whether we are helpful or just getting in the way.
Being supportive starts with self-awareness
about how we communicate. Good communication starts with listening. Talking is
not always helpful; listening is. Often what people need most is to be heard
and feel understood. The act of listening has nothing to do with you, except
your willingness to understand the speaker’s perspective. An effective listener
can move others into a deeper sharing of their story, feelings, struggles, and
Invite more sharing.
You have to earn credibility as someone who
is trustworthy, interested in understanding, and actually cares. Listening
first creates an invitation to the speaker to share more. Inviting more sharing
says you are genuinely interested, have no agenda, will not judge, and possess a
desire to understand.
Listen. Invite more sharing. Keep showing
up. It is not a flashy strategic plan and it does not always feel good, but it is
the “nuts and bolts” of providing support.
Mobilizing people and resources can
happen in many different ways. The “Platinum Rule” is applicable: do to others
what they want done. Very few people want to eat lasagna for the next 90 days,
so do not mobilize a lasagna squad. Yet, people need to be fed. Life is busy for
most people because there is so much to do. Assess what someone needs and help
them. Grief is as much an individual as a communal process. We need other
people to help get us through. Grief is not a 2 week, 2 month, or 6 month
experience. It is a lifelong process. So, help build a supportive community now
and in the future.
Do. Not. Assume. What is good for
you may not be good or helpful to someone else. So, just ask. You may want to
jump in quickly to feel helpful, but ask first. Asking does not equate with
doing nothing. On the contrary, asking makes way for more effective support.
Do not say “let me know what I can do” because few people know in the moment.
Identify a concrete need and then understand how to meet it.
Absence and silence are brutally painful.
It is not your job to fix anything or make it better. Being available is more beneficial
than doing. Just show up and be present. What often happens in our society is
that people show up for the first couple of months and then the support fades.
Keep showing up.
Don't try to fix.
“Helpers” often become “fixers.”
That is a real obstacle to being supportive. Nothing is broken. No words or
actions can, or ever have, made it all better. Take the pressure off of yourself to
come up with the perfect thing to say or do. Being present is at the heart of being helpful.
Grief is normal and serves a purpose.
Grief is the compilation of a lot
of feelings, some of which are very hard to hear and witness. Just because they
are intense or difficult does not mean there is something wrong or deranged.
Grief is normal and serves an important purpose. People do not always get out of
bed, shower, remember to eat, or know where they are going next. Do not suggest to, “Go
get help” because that dismisses the intensity of the grief and abnormalizes
it. Instead, comfort with, “I am here and we are going to get through this.” And then
keep showing up.
Talk about the person who died.
Sometimes people need to take a break from
talking about the person who died. That is okay. It is not okay for us to stop
sharing memories, ignore what happened, pretend that everything is fine, or
change the subject. Often times, people will talk about their loved one and
their grief if we ask questions and create a trusting environment.
10. Be patient and encourage.
Grief can be a broken record. Sometimes people
replay a story over and over. Sometimes they forget what they said or seem
perpetually confused or lost. That is okay. Patience and encouragement helps
with the daily rebuilding process for creating a new routine as well as a sense of
normalcy. Be a patient guide, knowing
that the person is trying to find a way forward.