Grief can feel like such a singular experience and while it is undoubtedly unique for each person, it does not need to be carried alone. In the immediate aftermath of a devastating loss, it may feel as though our life is irrevocably changed while the world keeps turning. Added to this, we may encounter unrealistic expectations from others, usually around how much time it will take for us to return to certain parts of our lives. This can make for an isolating experience, which is why having support to counteract this is key. One form of support is that of peers who have experienced loss too. When we come together around the subject of grief, we find that there is more shared understanding than we may have thought and to some degree, we then feel less alone.
The Remembering A Life Find Support webpage helps grievers locate various resources for this very reason. One resource highlighted on this page is the Hospice Foundation of America, the website which highlights the benefits of support groups and provides information on how to locate one through your local hospice. Grief groups can provide a powerful source of support, both in offering a sense of universality – the knowledge that we are not alone – and also in navigating how to manage family or social dynamics that may have been revealed or shifted after the death, as well as how to continue on in a life that may feel completely different. Something I really appreciate about this page is that it offers a more general support resource like the HFA but also highlights organizations dedicated to various unique grief experiences – for instance, there is a link to the COVID Grief Network. After we have experienced loss and have begun to find others who deeply know this experience too, we begin to feel that grief is a “club”. It is one that no one wants to join but we come together with tender support, despite this. I often think that from particular types of grief – meaning grief that varies depending upon who died, when they died, and how they died – sub-grief clubs are naturally formed. Grievers may more generally flock together, but connecting over a very specific type of loss may lead us to feel that much more witnessed and validated.
One example is the grievers of COVID-19. The full-scale change of daily life around the pandemic, the surreal volume of loss, the painful distance put in place, the disruption to custom mourning traditions…these aspects make this grief experience uniquely layered. The page also highlights specific support resources for those who have experienced the loss of a child, those who have lost a loved one to suicide, and those who are grieving after a substance abuse-related death, among other niche needs.
While this resource helps create a pathway for grievers to reach out for support, Remembering A Life also offers a Supporting Grievers webpage with solid grief education and tangible tips for those whose loved ones, whether adults or children, are navigating loss. One of the tips that resonates most with me, both from my own personal grief experience and my clinical work is to ask questions. By asking questions, we are able to guide our loved one to open up about their inner emotional world and their needs. By making assumptions, we bypass their uniqueness in favor of a presumed idea of what grief is supposed to be like.
One of the best points made by Remembering A Life is that the statement “let me know what I can do” is rarely effective because when we are in grief, the whole landscape of our daily lives looks different. Placing the onus on a griever to come up with a way to be supported could be really overwhelming and result in them not making any requests at all. One question that could result in more authentic support is “What is most difficult for you to do day to day right now?” Maybe they will say that right now, it’s cooking dinner, and then you know what your tangible task is. However, the tangible task might be something much more simple and yet much more vulnerable, such as sitting down to journal or free write next to each other. Quiet time in a grieving person’s presence, truly being with them, is often much more helpful than attempting to craft perfect words of comfort.
This is where resisting the urge to fix comes in, which Remembering A Life astutely points out in the support guide. In a way, as the support person, you can take a lot of pressure off yourself by keeping in mind that there is nothing to fix – only to be present for. Another helpful tip is to invite more sharing. This is where assumptions come back into play. A grieving person does not necessarily know that you are interested in hearing more about their experience or about their person who died, unless you explicitly share with them that you are. Genuineness here goes a long way. If you truly want to offer this type of support, perhaps instead of or alongside a tangible task, let them know by actively listening and staying curious and open.
Grief support involves both reaching out and leaning in. Reaching out toward connection and healing might feel like taking a step further away from a loved one who has died but with support, grievers may feel that they can continue on in life while carrying this person with them. Resources like the Remembering A Life Find Support page provide some tangible starting options when the path seems unclear. Those seeking to support someone who is in grief may feel ill equipped or unsure how to go about this, which often results in attempting to fix or altogether avoiding the person who is grieving. The Remembering A Life Supporting Grievers page offers real-world tips that supporters can practice using, with an emphasis on the importance of presence over wisdom. The more that we seek and offer support around grief, the more we will all be able to carry experienced or inevitable loss throughout our lives, without feeling quite so overwhelmingly weighed down by it.