National Grief Awareness day is help on the 30th August each year and is a chance to discuss an important, common and overpowering emotion.
When we experience loss, we experience grief. It can be brought about when we lose someone significant in our lives, a pet or something we consider significant.
And because it is such an individual emotion, it manifests itself in different ways. Grief doesn’t always mean uncontrollable crying or depression.
What is grief and how can we help someone caught between its razor sharp teeth?
What is grief?
It is an intense sorrow and sadness. It can become all-encompassing, something that colours everything we do, every day, since the loss of the someone or something significant.
People show emotions in different ways, and grief is no different. Thus, supporting someone with their grief isn’t a case of finding a one fits all solution. And neither is it a case of hoping it will be over soon.
Grief can last a long, long time. So how can you help?
#1 Don’t avoid someone who is grieving
When we are unsure of what to say or do, we may choose to avoid the situation. In other words, when we see a friend walking towards us who has recently lost someone close to them, rather than face an awkward conversation, we cross over the road.
Don’t be frightened of saying the ‘wrong’ thing. Just be natural and acknowledge that the grief is there and that it is a very difficult time.
#2 Let them cry
Again, we have an automatic response – ‘don’t cry’ – but even when said gently, it is saying that crying is wrong.
Crying is a tool the body uses to allow pent-up emotions to leave the body. Frankly, a good sob with a box of tissues never did anyone any harm.
And yet, we are taught to curb the emotion, to cry in private or not at all. As someone trying to help someone we care about, the temptation is to try and make it better so that they stop crying.
But many people who have been bereaved will tell you that it is OK for someone to sit in silence with them, whilst they cry. Silence is, as they say, sometimes golden.
#3 Encourage them to remember the person
Talking about someone who has passed does not make grief worse. It helps people to process their loss, to remember the person and to slowly, eventually and in their own time, to move on.
Grief shouldn’t be put into compartments. But it can help to have somewhere to go, a physical space where they feel at peace and are able to remember their loved one. You could encourage them to look at photographs, talk about their loved one, or visit their favourite spot.
A memorial bench is one option, placed in a spot that they would visit with their relative, for example.
#4 It can last a long time
Some people never truly get over their grief at losing someone but they learn, slowly, to adapt.
In effect, that is what grief is – adapting to life without that person or significant thing being in their lives. It’s almost learning to live again.
But we think that grief should last a set amount of time. But it doesn’t. Grief is an individual reaction that is different every time there is a loss in someone’s life.
#5 Don’t judge
Some people find losing their pet a traumatic experience and one that they think other people won’t understand.
Some people found that they cried and grieved more for their pet than a relative.
When it comes to grief, like other emotions, we tend to judge people for them. If you are helping someone grieve, don’t judge why or for whom they are grieving but stand with them as they go through it.
#6 Talk and listen
Under pressure, we can trot out lines such as “they had a good innings” or “they are at peace now”.
Sometimes, it's better to say that you don’t know what to say but that you are desperate to help them through this dark time. Ask them what they need – you might be surprised at the answer! They may say “tell me about your day” or “make me laugh”.
Grief isn’t all about tears – it is about the talking and the listening too. And it can be about the practical things too. But the message is clear – don’t be frightened of it.