Advice from Claire: How to Support a Grieving Friend
Do you want to be there for a friend who is grieving but feel unsure what to say or do? Claire gives you some tips on ways to comfort and show up for someone experiencing loss. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who wants to reconnect with her partner after spending so much time together during the pandemic.
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Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:00
How do we show up for someone who’s grieving matters a lot. But what? How? When?
Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:11
I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on NEW DAY. How do we show up for someone we care about when they’re grieving, I know can be hard to figure out what to do or say, but trust me when I tell you that not doing or saying anything is worse. But there’s a lot of pressure here to do or say the right thing. And so a lot of people freeze up, you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, or you just don’t know how to be supportive. Or maybe you’re even freaked out a little by death. And just being second hand it makes you retreat all together. But I’ll tell you as someone who has been through plenty of their own grief, and as someone who hears about other people going through loss all the time, I know it really matters when you can show up and be supportive when someone you know is going through this stuff. First of all, there actually are right and wrong things to say to someone who’s grieving. Let’s start with the wrong things. Don’t tell them they’ll be fine. Don’t tell them that everything happens for a reason. Don’t tell them that their person is in a better place. Don’t tell them you know exactly how they feel and compare their loss to one of yours big or small. Definitely don’t tell them they’ll be over it soon. And don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them you couldn’t cope with what they’re going through. And don’t try to fix it. All of the things I just listed are all the things that tend to make people feel like whatever they are feeling is wrong. These kinds of things can invalidate what they’re experiencing, and can give them the message that what they’re going through is not as hard as it feels to them. But here’s some things you can and should say. Just tell them you’re sorry. Tell them you’re here. Tell them you’re thinking about them. Tell them you want to hear about how they’re feeling. Tell them you’re here to listen, anytime they want to talk, whether it’s now or next week or in a year. Tell them you love them. Tell them it’s okay to feel everything they’re feeling. Tell them you want to support them in any in every way. And sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all, just show up and be present. I think one of the reasons people so often trip up around other people who are grieving is because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s okay to simply say, I don’t know what to say. But I’m here. We can also be afraid to talk about the death because we’re worried that we’re going to upset the grieving person. But more often than not, people want to talk about their grief. And if they don’t, it’s still okay that you provided space for them to do it anyway. There are also some basic things you can do for someone who’s grieving. You can drop off meals, organized support from a wider circle of friends and family. You can take out their trash, water their lawn, just simple things that can feel really overwhelming to someone going through a big loss. Drop off some books about grief, or research support groups or grief therapists and send these their way. Share any photos or memories you might have of the person they lost. This can be really meaningful, offer to come over and watch movies and hang out with their kids. I have one client tell me that after she lost her husband, a friend told her, hey, I’m going to come over every Tuesday night with a meal at 6:30. I’m going to sit on your porch. And if you feel it coming out to talk, I’m there. If you don’t feel like talking don’t come out, then I’ll just leave the meal. And it was really comforting to my client that she had that option and knew that her friend was there to support her whether she was up for it or not. One last tip I also like to offer and emphasize is not to just show up in the beginning of a loss, but instead to keep checking in on a person weeks, months, even years down the road after their loss. So often people will surround a grieving person in the first few weeks after a loss. But those early days are so intense. So many clients have told me they don’t even remember what was going on in the first few months. Some of the really heavy grief doesn’t set in until the six month mark. But by then, most people have stopped checking in on them. So don’t keep checking in checking it six months, nine months, a year. But the anniversary date of your friends lost in your calendar, and send them a note every year telling them you’re thinking about them on that day. It will mean more than you think. Above all. While there are some wrong things to say to someone who’s grieving, the wrong thing to do is nothing. So show up, be present. Be curious, be open, and just love on the person who’s grieving.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 04:24
My guess is that today’s listener question will apply to a lot of people. It certainly resonates with me. I’d love to hear your question. Write me an email at email@example.com or fill out my online form at bit.ly/newdayask. Today’s question is from Pam in Boston. She writes, how do you reconnect with your partner after spending so much time together in the same space during COVID? When it gets stale, and you start to take each other for granted? Hi, Pam. You’re not alone in this one. I’m definitely right here with you. I’ve spent way too much time I’m at home with my husband these last couple years. And so I really feel this. And I think a lot of people out there feel it too. I think the main thing here is that you got to shake up your routine. I think it’s important to agree to work on this together, though, if just one of you is on board with reconnecting, I think it can be difficult. So maybe this initially looks like sitting down with your partner and discussing how stale things would become. Talk about how it feels for each of you, and really listen to what the other has to say. Try to be as honest as possible about what the experience of your relationship is currently like for you. Maybe start the conversation by suggesting that you each listen without responding so that you can be really open. And the next I think you should talk about times in your relationship when things felt fun and fresh and vibrant. Like, let yourselves reminisce about those times and the way it felt. Let yourselves Remember why you’re in this, and what drew you to each other in the first place. And then next, you got to start working together to brainstorm ways that you can change things up. Like maybe every Wednesday is a date night. And this could mean going out to dinner, or a show or even just taking like a sunset walk. Maybe you dream up a cool place to travel. Or you could just like go to visit fun friends in a neighboring state. Or you could get a cool Airbnb, or maybe you dream up like your ultimate vacation, and start planning for that. Maybe you do all of these, and you start with the easy, affordable ones and create a big savings stash for the other. But make this like an actual goal. You could certainly try some of those fun card decks that like prompt conversations between partners, my husband and I did one of these on a little getaway one night, and we ended up talking about all this stuff that we had never talked about and all our years together, you can find this card decks online, just searching relationship conversation cards. Now, those are all the ways to get closer. But it might also help to develop some interests and fulfillments outside of your relationship, like find a power to go to yoga classes or book signings with until your partner do the same thing. Sometimes going out in the world and having experiences without your partner can make you more interested to come home to them. I definitely recommend couples therapy, if anything I’ve mentioned seems hard to achieve with your partner. Like if you guys are in a place where there are a bunch of buried tensions or resentments, it can be really hard to get both of you working towards these common goals. So having a third party like a therapist, can help you facilitate some of the more difficult conversations that can get you into a better place. I really recommend the book, I want this to work by couples therapist, Elizabeth Earnshaw. The book has all these great exercises that you can do with your partner at the end of each chapter. And she’s also been a guest on my podcast a couple of times, once even with me and my husband. Hang in there, Pam, it doesn’t sound like things are at a breaking point, you just need to tend to your relationship a bit and freshen it up. I think a lot of us are in the same boat. And I think I’m even going to take some of my own advice that I gave you here and use it with my husband. So thank you for writing
Claire Bidwell-Smith 08:00
That’s it for today. Make sure you come back on Wednesday when I’ll give you some tips on how to deal with guilt after someone dies. It’s really common and there are definitely ways to address it. So subscribe to NEW DAY and your favorite podcast app. So Wednesday’s episode will be in your feed right when you wake up.
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.