How to Understand Someone in Grief

Do You Know Someone Struggling with Grief?

GRIEF. It is one of those emotions that we wish we could avoid, but we will all, undoubtedly, experience grief at some point in our life.

Since the experience of loss and grief is universal and will impact most everyone during their lifetime, I wanted to write about it today. I want to encourage anyone who is grieving that whatever you are feeling after a loss is O.K., you are not alone, and you will get through this.

If you have lost someone, I am so sorry for your loss. Allow yourself to let your emotions go. Please don’t bottle them up. I have heard it said like this, “It is not the grief you want to avoid; it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain.” These gut-wrenching, sometimes suffocating feelings you may be facing are signs that a deep connection has been severed. It is going to be painful. But grieving is necessary.

Taylor called my radio show a couple years after her mom died. She is dealing with many mixed emotions because she didn’t actually know her mom that well, but she still misses her. Taylor shares how some days she stays in bed and cries all day, but she knows she can’t let her grief control her life.

Perhaps you have read about the 5 stages of grief before, but I want to share them with you again. Each stage is important as they allow the human emotional immune system to resolve the loss.  However, the stages of grief aren’t always clear cut and there is no set time limit for each step. They simply act as a framework for healing. Do you find yourself in one of these stages?

How to Love Someone Grieving

Stage One: Denial, Numbness, and Shock

  • The initial shock serves to protect the person from experiencing the intensity of the loss. Numbness and shock are normal in this stage and shouldn’t be confused with “lack of caring”.
  • Denial or numbness can last anywhere from a minute to months, depending on the individual. As the person slowly begins to acknowledge the impact of the loss, disbelief will diminish.

Stage Two: Anger

  • Anger is a necessary part of the grieving process. In this stage, one may feel helpless, abandoned or powerless as a result of the loss.
  • Feelings of anger can act as a temporary structure to frame the loss and begin processing it. A grieving individual may also be angry at God, the person lost or in life in general.

Stage Three: Bargaining

Stage Four: Depression

  • The bargaining stage often involves persistent thoughts about what could’ve been done to prevent the loss or ways there could have been a different outcome.
  • If not properly resolved, the intense feelings of remorse or guilt may interfere with the healing process.
  • Depression sets in after the true extent of the loss becomes reality. Feelings of loneliness, emptiness, isolation and self-pity often accompany this stage of grief. After a major loss, those dealing with depression tend to withdraw from life and be in a fog of intense sadness.
  • Common physical symptoms of grief or depression may appear, including sleep or appetite disruption, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells.

Stage Five: Acceptance

  • Over time, the grieving person may be able to come to terms with their emotions and accept that the loss has occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the person’s set of life experiences.
  • This stage is where one accepts that life is forever changed and must readjust to the new reality. This doesn’t mean forgetting the loss but rather rebuilding and beginning to reinvest in hobbies, friendships, new connections, etc.

It is important to know that enjoying life again does not mean that you no longer miss the person you lost. You are not somehow betraying them by moving on. Your grief has simply run its course.

However, it is also not wrong to keep their memory alive with a special object or planned occasion. Sometimes externalizing your loss in such a way can aid with your healing, especially during the holidays, when the hole left by the person you lost is felt more acutely again. Here are some ideas of what you could do:

  • Light a candle for your loved one.
  • A prayer before the Holiday dinner, about your loved one.
  • Share a favorite story about your loved one.
  • Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.

Perhaps as you are reading this blog you are thinking of a friend who has experienced great loss and you are not sure how to help them. You may even be avoiding the situation because you are afraid it will be awkward or that you will say the wrong thing. Let me assure you that the most important thing you can do is to just be there for them. There are no magic words to say to take away their pain. Your presence is enough. In an effort to make you more comfortable in these situations here are two lists…one is of things that are helpful to say, the other is of things to avoid saying.

The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief:

1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. I wish I had the right words; just know I care.
3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.
4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…
6. I am always just a phone call away
7. Give a hug instead of saying something
8. We all need help at times like this, I am here for you
9. I am usually up early or late, if you need anything
10. Say nothing, just be with the person

What to avoid saying to Someone in Grief:

1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young
2. He is in a better place
3. She brought this on herself
4. There is a reason for everything
5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for a while now
6. You can have another child still
7. She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him
8. I know how you feel
9. She did what she came here to do, and it was her time to go
10. Be strong

Wyatt called into Dawson McAllister Live! seeking advice for how to help his best friend. A year has passed since his friend’s mom died and Wyatt has stood by his side, but now his friend is starting to act out. I let Wyatt know that after a year of “being there” for his friend, he has earned the right to speak the truth to him.

As you walk this journey through grief know that God is near. Even if you are confused and feel alone, God will never abandon you. He says in the Bible “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He also tells us to “Cast all our cares on him.” Keep praying and ask others to pray for you as well and God will give you a peace that passes understanding.

We also have a partner, GriefShare, who is a caring support group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life's most difficult experiences.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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