Even if you’re not physically close, you can still be there. Here’s how.
– DANIELLE HESTER
I’ve never experienced a heartbreak like it. The loss of a parent — my mother.
At the time of my mother’s passing, I knew one person close to me who lost a parent, too. Her mom died years before we met, and I remember feeling a sense of discomfort and thinking I can’t even imagine how you feel whenever she’d mention her mom in the past tense. She was the first non-family member I called when I got the news.
How people showed up — and continue to show up for me — became essential to my healing process as every day presented a new lesson in how to cope without her. (Along with therapy, meditation, journaling, being active, crying, sleeping, and did I say therapy?)
Reflecting on the heaviest moments of my grieving process, I realized three things: One, you are never quite the same after losing someone close. Two, grief and trauma can have a major impact on the mind and body; the stages of grief seem to show up at the most random of times and in unexpected ways. And three, people honestly don’t know what to do when a close person in their life experiences a loss. I still wonder if the ways I show up for someone is enough and I’ve been there.
“Grief is a life-long process,” says Rev. Jasclyn N. Coney, therapist, life coach, and spiritual consultant. “Know that there are stages to grief. Never shame a person for their emotions or feelings. Anger, sadness, and confusion are normal.”
While how you show up for someone really depends on that person and their individual needs, here are a few things to keep in mind about the grieving process and how you can help, especially from afar.
Patience is one of the most selfless things you can offer during this time. “Never suggest that they should have a time limit to ‘get over’ the death,” says Rev. Coney. You can’t rush the healing process for them. They have to feel their way through it, day by day. Knowing that the people around me loved me enough to be patient until I came to understand healthy ways to cope continues to be the act of kindness I value most.
Know that there are stages to grief
If your loved one doesn’t seem like themselves, it’s because they are not. Be proactive and research the five stages of grief to better understand the process and to learn how to identify moments of emotions when they are present. Then, be patient.
Always remember to ask a person what they need
Never assume you have the cure to their grief. Never assume that you know exactly what they need to be OK. If they are unsure of what they need in the moment, small acts of kindness go a long way. If you are able to be near your loved one, offer to cook dinner or clean up for them, or finish the thank-you cards they’ve been meaning to mail out. If you’re supporting them from afar, think about gestures like purchasing a food delivery gift card to cover a few meals, or send a nice card, just because.
Know that words are not always necessary
Sometimes just sitting with the person is more than enough. Your presence can speak louder than your words. If you are away from your loved one, send check-in and words of encouragement texts with no expectation for them to reply back. They will do so in their own time.
Stay in the “no judgment” zone
Everyone deals with grief differently. As long as a person is not threatening or planning to harm themselves or others, allow them to grieve as needed. “When the grief becomes too heavy and a person is unable to perform normal daily tasks, gently suggest that they seek counseling to positively manage their grief and find joy amidst the pain,” says Rev. Coney.
It all comes down to this main understanding: Loss of a loved one is traumatic, for the person going through it and for the people closest to them trying to connect to their pain. Remind those who are grieving that the process takes time, that you are there for them, and that they are loved.
We’d love to hear from you. How are you and your loved ones been getting through this time? What gestures from friends and loved ones have been most meaningful to you?