The topic of how to greet a grieving person came up again this week. My client said, “I wish people would stop asking, ‘How are you?’”
I wish they would too.
The role of the grief-adjacent
You, as someone in the role of the grief-adjacent, are called to activate intuition and heart.
You’re there to support. Not to fix or heal. You are there to simply be. Be the safety, the grounding. Reflect the words you hear being said back to the griever. Let them know you’re listening.
Grief is an emotional inside process for the grieving.
And then what?
What do we say if we don’t ask, “How are you?” When greeting someone who’s gripped in grief try these greetings:
- I am so relieved to see you (at the office today).
- It is good to see you.
- I am so grateful to see you.
Please don’t add wounding to the wound with, “I can’t imagine what you are going through.” That’s about you. Not the one suffering. We don’t care what you imagine.
You can try these statements instead:
- I love you. I’m happy to hang out with you or whatever you want.”
- On a scale of 1-10, how are you at this moment?
- How are you coping?
- How’s your day been so far?
Also, consider sending a text or writing a card:
- “This holiday must be so hard without ___.”
- “Wish I were there to hug away your pain, if only for a minute.”
- “Sending loving thoughts to enfold you as you mourn the absence of ______.”
- Thinking of you at this moment. May I call you on Sunday to check-in? Then, if the person says yes, follow through on your promise to call. Say, “Hi, just calling to check-in as I said I would. How is your grief right this moment?” or “What have you been doing today?”
Remember, you are there to support them emotionally. To listen to their confused thoughts. To know that their physical self may no longer feel like themselves. You are the love and the light that simply shows up to BE with them.
I’m curious about what you think. What did this message bring up from within you? Please reply and tell me. Even if it’s only to say, “Georgena you are full of it when you say____.”
Remember we learn from each other. You are my teacher!!
Love all around, above, below, to the left and to the right, before you and behind you,
P.S. If you are a grieving person that dreads “How are you?” then forward this to everyone who’s asking.
If you know someone who’s grieving, consider sending them a virtual gift basket.
PPS: I also lead training at companies on “How to be with a grieving person in the workplace.” Your referrals are appreciated.
About a year ago, 1 1/2 years after losing my son, my Sister called me to ask how to respond to a friend who had lost her first-responder husband to suicide. I wrote and posted this to my facebook wall:
As I sat down to type this, I thought “that’s what I’ve become, an unwilling or unintentional or accidental expert”…so, before continuing my thoughts, I googled “Accidental Expert” and there it is. So, I guess I’m not the first person to feel this way.
This morning, I fielded a call from someone who I love dearly. Last night, her friend’s husband took his own life….and she wanted to know how best to support her friend.
After the obligatory and reflexive “I’m sorry.”…I had to put my slightly hung-over brain to work….and walk through a place in my memories that I choose not to visit often.
What helped? Was there anything? Was it all just kinda noise?
My first instinct was to say “I don’t know.” Then I thought: “I basically guided my friends through helping me last year” and told her to go back and read my posts from last May/June.
Then I thought: “that’s not even right….because even as I was guiding my friends through helping me…I still learned along the way.”
So, here’s “Eddie’s Guide to Helping a Loved One Through Trauma” © (can I copyright this???? jk)
1. Make the obligatory and reflexive “I’m sorry” short. I’m not sure it’s necessary, and it really accomplishes nothing….but since you’re gonna do it anyway, get it over with quickly
2. Tell your loved-one that: “I will never bring this up again, but it is an open-ended offer. If you ever need or want someone to talk to, and you feel comfortable talking to me, I will listen.” Leave it at that. Please keep in mind that this person is going to get infinite offers of “anything I can do” and “whenever you need to talk” and blah blah blah. Each of them will be sincere and all, but….they will almost all fall on ears that are unready to process them. It’s important to remember that you might not be the person they choose to open up to. Don’t force it.
3. Call or text to check in. This is important….do not ask “How are you doing?” You do not want to know the answer to that. If I had ever truly answered that, it would have been ugly, and I might have sent others into therapy…and I’m pretty sure that’s the way most people feel post-trauma. A simple “hi” or “thinking of you” or my favorite “hugs”…it lets this person know they aren’t alone and serves as a way to open communication if/when they’re ready
4. Social situations…….One of the hardest things I deal with, STILL, is running into people who know about my loss and still feel the need to say something. Yep, I’m still hurting. F**k, I’m really hurting a lot…and while I appreciate your “Sorrys”, if I’m out somewhere trying to have a night of fun…don’t pull me back into that place….a simple hug will suffice…but, I might hang on just a second longer than normal…i find hugs to be my life-force these days.
4a. Social Situations Part 2: One of the things that is still hardest for me is being out around town and bumping into people who may not know I lost my son, and I get ridiculous anxiety about having to answer their question about “How’s Cooper?” If we are out together and I see someone that I worry might not know, be prepared to run interference for me to avoid the question, or put me back together after I have to answer it.
4b. Social Situations Part 3: This is really for everyone in day to day life. If someone tells you that they lost a loved-one, after “I’m Sorry.” the next reflex is to ask “What Happened”. I lost my son to suicide. It STILL pains me to even type that word, and pains me even more to say that word. Don’t ask “What Happened?” If I tell you that I lost my son, just leave it at that. If I feel comfortable sharing more, I will.
5. DO NOT MAKE IT ABOUT YOU! I’mma be an ass for just a second….Blondie-Jo, could probably answer this better….but I can’t count how many times I’ve had to comfort somebody else about MY loss/trauma. Read that again. And when you’re done shaking your head in wonder, read it again. Yes. In the process of someone trying to help/comfort me, they’ve lost their own emotions and I’ve had to play counselor and find the strength to not only hold my own emotions, but also to comfort someone else. Thought: “losing a child is every parents worst nightmare”, we all know that and to a parent, it hits really close to home. But if you’re not ready to talk about it and hold your shit together, you’re really not ready to talk/help me, you’re just gonna make it worse, and consume what little strength I have. Subtle reminder, I lost a child, my only child…it takes almost every bit of energy i can muster to hold my own shit together….and I think whether its losing a child, spouse, parent or even a friend, we’re ALL trying to keep it together.
6. Memories. They’re all I have. Read that again, too. They’re precious and treasured….and I want to hear yours….but tread cautiously. I’m pretty sure you can read my eyes when you bring up my son’s name. You’ll see the flash of pain and the love all in a blink…you just opened an old would, but your wonderful story can be my new bandage. If you watch closely, I bet you can tell if I’m ready to hear your memories. This is really gonna depend on YOUR skill at reading people…if I try to steer the conversation elsewhere, take note and respect it. We’re friends, there will be another time to share your story with me.
So there you have it, an Accidental Expert’s undesired wisdom.
I’m sure I’ll learn and add more along the way. If you’ve made it this far, please feel free to share….