One of the most challenging things to go through, particularly when you are an empath like I am, is to be there for someone while they are grieving. Its a tough balance to strike between caring for them while still caring for yourself. One cannot exist without the other, and it is not selfish to know that. I’ve grown to be okay with setting boundaries around how I support those I love while still staying connected to myself. There really is no right or wrong way to show up for your loved ones, just experiences and in mine, here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Ask them how they would like to be supported. It sounds simple, but I’ve found that its a step that people tend to skip to fill the space. While our hearts may be in the right place, a lot of how we handle people is rooting in what makes us feel better then it is them. So I’d encourage you to stop and simply ask them how you can be of best support to them during this time. Though they may not know initially just what that is or looks like, by asking I find that they do start to consider their needs in a time when most people obviously don’t, and they will vocalize it to you. It may not come in a clear “this is what I need you to do” kind of way but in conversation. It’s essential to pay attention to the things they say in the free flow of conversation. That’s usually where you get the answer. If they are planning the funeral or are responsible for any significant decision making, ask them if they’d like you to accompany them or sit with them while they sort through. If they mention things that they need to get done that you are able and willing to take care of for them, offer to do it or just get it done. As best as you can, try not to rely on them to communicate to you their needs, at least not initially, but be proactive in hearing through conversation and then jump in where you can. If they are clear about what they need, then do that as asked, nothing more or less is necessary.
- Allow them to feel. One of the things people tend to do in their attempt to comfort others is to try to fill the space with words and actions that aren’t always that helpful to the person they are seeking to comfort. Our intentions may be okay, we have to understand that often times there isn’t much we can say that is going to make this any better for our loved one. The best we can do is offer them a space to experience their grief in whatever way that looks like for them. Sometimes just by being with them, you are providing them the support that is sustainable and likely more meaningful than words. If they cry, let them cry. Telling them, “it’s going to be okay or that their loved one is in a better place,” while all may be true, is not necessary. If you cannot manage your own feelings or are uncomfortable with emotions, then it’s okay to step away. Offer your support in other ways. Send food, flowers, a cleaning service, etc. There are plenty of practical ways to be there for them that doesn’t require you to go beyond your capabilities. Do your best to be self-aware enough to know what that is and move from there. Everyone’s grief looks different so the more we can avoid trying to control how someone navigates through theirs, the better suited we are to give room for the healing and discovery of their new normal to take place.
- Self check in. As always, even while caring for others we have to remain attached to our own thoughts, feelings, and needs. I’ve recently experienced a series of very difficult loses for those I love but tucked away in the midst of it was my own grief. A lot of times if it is someone very close to us experiencing loss then there is a good chance you too knew that person and may perhaps have your own grief to deal with. In each of these instances, these were people that I also had known and loved. I had to be sure to check in with myself through this process to allow myself the proper space to process and feel as I needed as well. In some cases I was able to express this to my loved one, and in ways, it allowed for us to hold on to each other while we mourned. Doing so allowed me to reflect on my memories and pain which in doing so enabled me to be a better support to them.
- Boundaries. Whether you are the right-hand man type like me or are just lending your support as needed, creating boundaries around what that looks like is always necessary. For those that are all in, taking a moment to yourself is okay. It’s okay not to answer that call or be available for everything. Sometimes, you have to say to first yourself and then the person, I can’t at the moment. One thing I know for sure, if I am depleted, then I am no good for anyone. So recharging my battery, downloading my own emotional build up and exhaling for a moment is okay. Even in grief people can and will take advantage if you let them, know just how far you can and are willing to go and remain steadfast behind that line. It is an incredibly difficult time with emotions, to do lists and stress riding high, however, the sole responsibility to help your loved one through all of those things does not fall on your shoulders. Love them, show up for them, be a solid foundation of support and then go home and breathe.
- Stay consistent. As we all know, the toughest moments tend to come after the funeral has been held and all the guest return to their homes both near and away, the food and phone calls slowly stop coming in and now the person who has lost someone who was once apart of their lives consistently is left to live with the void. This is perhaps the time, maybe even more than the initial passing, that your person needs you the most. You don’t have to crowd them with constant questions of “how are you?” or stop by every day but for as often as you can, shoot a text to let them know you are thinking of them. Invite them to spend time in ways that you guys would typically hang to both provide a space for them to mourn as needed and also to create some sense of normalcy. In friendship, period, consistency is key to maintaining the relationship. In times of sorrow, this is even more so. Grief never really goes away and neither should you. In time it tends to get more manageable and so should your ability to balance showing up for your loved ones while never losing sight of you.
I pray for peace, comfort, healing, and love for all of you. Everything’s better when done together, so let’s hold on to each other through the toughs times, they won’t last always.