One of the most difficult challenges in life is coping with the loss of a family member or friend. Whether the loss is expected or sudden, or caused by a sudden accident, natural disaster, mass shooting, or illness, grief creates overwhelming and complex feelings (e.g., sadness, anger, confusion, fear, peace) for the survivor.
While individuals may pass through five common stages of grief, specifically denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, the journey will be unique for each person and the process will not follow a straight path. Some individuals may skip or bypass certain stages while others may leap around and come back to earlier stages of grief during their healing process. Although stages can help individuals to know what to expect and potentially assist in the preparation and healing process, it is important to remember that there is significant variability following a loss and that no two people will grieve the same way. The grief process can be made worse or made better by the types of responses and reactions from friends—regardless of whether the action was well intended.
Grief Etiquette Tips:
- Listen well. Do not try to fix or solve the problem. Do not push a person to speak, but rather sit with them in silence and be present.
- Think of your friend first. Do not force your method of grieving nor launch into your own grief story unless it truly is to benefit your friend.
- Avoid minimizing the loss. Never tell the person to “get over it” or that it has “been too long” for her/him to still be grieving.
- Demonstrate support and do not give up on your friend. Trust your gut and find a balance between respecting boundaries and not abandoning your friend during a time of need.
- Send help. Solicit support from other community and religious groups that can bring food, run errands, pay bills, and write thank-you notes. Life may stop for the griever, but that does not mean that the world stops.
- He/she would want you to…..
- It’s time for you to move on
- At least you had the chance to say goodbye OR at least her/his death was painless
- He/she is in a better place
- I know someone who lost their husband/wife, and now they are happily remarried
- You are not alone in this journey
- We are here for you and will walk beside you
- We are heartbroken for you
- You will not always feel this way
- Nobody is judging you, and there is no time-limit for grieving a tragic loss
Grief and love are often intertwined. It is impossible to live life without the other, and when grief remains inside, the pain and hurt only deepen. It’s important to be upset and to cry, and by allowing those emotions, peace and meaning can be achieved. Consider the metaphor of building a sandcastle. Part of the excitement is that in the end, we give the sand back to the ocean as a gift. Use this process as a catalyst to re-evaluate priorities, values, and goals, and to establish a renewed vision, purpose, and sense of meaning. Consider talking about the death of your loved ones rather than denying or isolating from the event. Accept your feelings, whether they are frustration and anger or a sense of relief. Reach out to loved ones and take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, exercising, and eating well. Share stories of your loved one and celebrate their lives by donating to a favorite charity or cause, building a garden in memory of the person you lost, creating a scrapbook, buying a pet and naming him/her after the deceased, or baking their favorite dishes around holidays and family events.
Seek Support from Professionals
Some individuals may experience complicated or complex grief, and feel unable to carry out daily activities. Hopelessness and despair may creep in. At this point, one may benefit from scheduling an appointment with a psychologist or another licensed mental health professional specializing in grief or trauma. These individuals are trained to help individuals process feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear, anger, and sadness. In this setting, you will learn healthy coping strategies, emotional regulation skills, and how to strengthen overall resiliency.