Sunset over Poppy Field

A Guide to Supporting and Talking to Others about Grief

Talking about grief is not likely to be at the top of your conversation starters, and you might only have what you’ve heard others say in the past as a starting point, which might not be the right thing to say. 

You might want to send a sympathy card, or comment on social media, or perhaps you’ve reached an awkward moment and there’s an ‘elephant in the room,’ and you’ve become lost for words.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help you. Our grief specialists have joined together to share their knowledge as well as providing some really useful tips. 

Before you start…

 

Listening to someone who is going through loss is different to the listening you’d do in normal conversations. This will really help the person, as grievers need to be heard.

 

How to listen to someone who is grieving

What to say & what not to say
 

Old Pier
Listening skills you will need 

Listening to someone who is going through loss is different to the listening you’d do in normal conversations. This will really help the person, as grievers need to be heard.

How to listen

 

One of the hardest and yet most important things to do when supporting someone who is bereaved is to resist the urge to fix things.

When we see someone we care about suffering, we want to make things better. We come up with logical reasons why things happened the way they did, or we might share our own experience thinking it might help - but it doesn’t.

If they are in deep mourning, there is little you can say to alleviate their pain. However, there is something you can do that will make a significant difference, you can be present and listen, really listen.

But we’re good at listening, right? We listen all the time, every waking minute of every day. Our family, colleagues, friends, music, TV and so on - listening is second nature. But are you REALLY listening?

The level of attention to listening that grievers need goes beyond our everyday listening skill, but can be learned. Here are some pointers to help you.

Be fully present

 

Remove any distractions from your mind. What’s for dinner tonight doesn’t matter, the urgent work issue can wait, even preparing what you’re going to say next can prevent you from giving your full attention.

Being fully present means your body language, your facial expressions and your vocal signals show your loved one that they are your sole focus, and will encourage them to share how they’re feeling.

If you are in a position where you know you cannot give the griever your full attention e.g., you are on your way to a meeting, schedule a time to meet up with the griever when you know you can be fully present with them.

Remove judgement, comparison or expectations


Everyone’s grief is unique. No two people will grieve the same, because no two people share the exact same life experiences. Therefore, expecting someone to have the same reaction you have, or feeling frustrated because their suffering seems worse than yours, are sure fire ways of shutting down your loved one, making it less likely they will open up to you again.

Listening without judgement, comparison, or expectations takes practice. If you are fully in the moment, you will notice when your feelings are being triggered and you’ll be able to reign them in. Remember, just because they may not be mourning like you have or would, doesn’t make their grief, or your grief any less valid.

Practice empathy


Empathy is one of the most noble human attributes - and consequently one of the hardest to learn. It goes beyond the sympathy of feeling sorry for someone while keeping yourself detached from their situation.

Empathy can be uncomfortable because it means walking a mile in someone else's shoes, in order to try to feel how they are feeling - not to review how you would manage the situation, but to simply share a little bit of their pain, and understand something of what they are going through.

Feel comfortable with silence


Here’s something else that might not come naturally, and will likely cause discomfort too. Silence doesn’t always need to be broken, left alone it can be an opportunity for your loved one to collect their thoughts, or to work through their feelings.

Often, just being there is enough, and the silence can signal that you are there for them, not to impart some well worded wisdom, or to get busy trying to fix things in an attempt to avoid the intensity of your own feelings.

Resist the urge to fix things


Okay, so I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now, but that’s because it’s important. Practical support is essential, but when it spills over into advice like ‘you‘ve got to keep yourself busy’ or ‘you must be strong for…’, it can become about making yourself feel more comfortable with the situation, rather than letting your loved one properly grieve.

Purple Skies
What to say & what not to say

What to say...

 

Before we go any further, even if you don’t read or take on board anything else, here are some initial words to say - Remember ‘TED’:

 

  • Tell me

  • Explain

  • Describe

These words will help open up conversations and will let the griever know you’re ready to listen.

 

Sometimes the person grieving won’t feel like talking at that particular moment but by acknowledging what they’re going through, you’re signalling that you’re there for them to share their feelings and stories.

Here are some more useful words:

  • What happened?

  • Can you tell me a little about it?

  • I can only imagine how… painful/devastating/heartbreaking that has been for you.

  • I'm sorry, it's awful, I can't imagine what you're going through, there are no words of comfort that will help right now

 

Show with your body language, if you are there for them. If it's a neighbour, demonstrate it with small kindnesses, the odd bit of shopping for basics, inviting them for tea and a chat, offer to run errands. stopping in the street to ask how they are, and really listening to their answer. The worst thing you can do is just ignore or avoid them.

What not to say...

  • Don't say any of the standard platitudes which are actually to make YOU, rather than the bereaved, feel better, for example.

  • "She had a good life, a good innings, she's not suffering any more, she wouldn't want you to be sad, etc."

  • Don't offer a religious interpretation, e.g. "She's with Jesus. She'll be watching over you."

  • "Time heals" or "move on" Don't say, nor imply, that it helps to let go.

  • "I'm here for you" unless you will be. I have met many people who feel let down having heard that.

  • 'I understand", then tell a story about your own loss.

Beach Fench
Supporting someone after losing a parent

Losing a parent can rock your world. When the relationship has been good, it’s the loss of that stable, the person who has been there throughout life so far. When the relationship has been less than favourable, the feelings can be very mixed, and often involves the loss of hopes of what a relationship might have been like, or sometimes regrets, or anger that a parent has died without apologising for past hurts.

 

Either way, that person was part of their identity. On losing the second parent, there can be another layer of loss, in that the person no longer has a ‘grown up’ to rely on, even if they’re an adult. They might suddenly be the eldest in their branch of the family and there can be a sense of responsibility that comes with that. They may also be confronted by their own mortality.

How you can help

  • Ask them if they’d like to talk about their parent(s) and how they’re feeling.

  • If you knew their parents, reminiscing about them and sharing stories can help keep the memory of them alive.

  • If they didn’t have a good relationship with their parents, they might want to avoid sharing negative memories and you might feel you ought to leave the past in the past. However, not talking about them might mean they bury the pain, potentially causing emotional or health problems in the future. If you feel comfortable to do so, reassure them you’re someone they can talk to if they want to, then just listen. 

  • They might experience changes in their relationships with their siblings. Ask how things are, in case they need someone to listen.

  • Feelings of grief can pop up unexpectedly, as well as anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, etc. Keep checking in with them without constantly asking if they’re alright, but just with regular contact, with little reminders every now and then that you’re ready to listen if they need to talk. Sometimes just being present and watching TV together is enough.nm,

By Maria Bailey, Grief Specialist

Green Hills
Supporting someone after spouse loss

The death of your life partner impacts every aspect of your life.  From waking up to the empty space next to you, every meal, chore, routine, social interaction, and decision until you go back to that now too big bed, is different. This level of change on top of all the grief can make everything overwhelming. If there are children, then coping with their grief adds even more complex layers.

How you can help

  • Patience, Persistence and Practicality! 

  • Be prepared to be snapped at - remember that this person is very likely to be overwhelmed, so remember it isn’t about you! 

  • Use the name of the person who died and ask if they’d like to talk about them. 

  • Don’t imagine you’re reminding them of the hurt, they haven’t forgotten. 

  • Get comfortable with tears and irrationality (hence the patience) and keep contacting them regularly. If you text, ask a question that invites an answer, such as “what’s happening with you right now?” or “are you up to accepting a call?” - don’t assume from a no reply they never want to hear from you (persistence) 

  • Offer practical solutions, such as dropping off a supply of ready meals. Grief is exhausting and asking for help may take more energy than they have. 

  • Be cautious if helping with housework. Don’t bin anything without checking (it could be the last tissue they touched) and definitely don’t do the laundry without permission - that shirt at the bottom of the basket might be the last thing with their smell on.

  • Remember, everyone moves at their own pace, there is no rush to get rid of their stuff, so while it might be a topic for discussion, (“what would you like to do?” rather than “you have to get it gone so you can move on”) the only person who gets to decide if it’s time or not is the widowed person.

By Carole Henderson, Certified Grief Edu-Therapy Specialist

Space
Supporting someone after child loss

Child loss can take the shape of miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss or any other age. This loss is usually devastating and complex for the parent and family because it is perceived as an “unnatural” type of loss, because a child is expected to outlive their parent. To buttress this point, there is no name for a parent who has lost a child. 

As a result of this unnatural type of loss, most people do not know how to respond to this loss, leaving most parents feeling a lot more isolated in their grief.

How you can help

  • When it comes to child loss, it is important to be patient with the bereaved parent who in the early days after the death may only want to talk about their child who has died. 

  • Don’t avoid them, rather seek them out. Provide practical help, such as getting chores done around the house, babysitting other kids, and offering to cook. 

  • If you remember the child’s birthday, reach out on that day via text or a card through the post to let the bereaved parent know you are thinking of them on their child’s special day.

  • One emotion a lot of bereaved parents experience is guilt. Whatever you do, do not analyse, judge or criticise the parent, especially around how the child died. Do not question them and tell them what you think they should have done better or different.

By Detola Amure,

Productivity Coach | Grief & Loss Specialist

Moon Clouds
Supporting someone after sibling loss

When a sibling dies, so does a lifetime of shared memories and experiences. They might have been the only person in the griever’s life that knew them in childhood, or was the last person they could share memories of parents with.

 

In my own personal experience the most unhelpful comment I heard so often was “You need to be strong for your parents, they shouldn’t have to bury their daughter.”  While this is intellectually correct, it’s emotionally useless.

Telling someone to ‘be strong’ leaves people feeling that they shouldn’t show their grief, and can lead them to pushing their  grief down and letting the stress of life pile on top of it. Some people don’t know what to say, so they don't say anything. This can leave the griever feeling their loved one isn't worth talking about, when all they may want to do is talk about them. 

 

People told me everything would be alright.  It would never be alright, my sister was dead.  I was told to be grateful for the time we had together. This made me angry as I wanted so much more time with my sister.  I was also told that ‘God was waiting for her on the other side.”  This really infuriated me, one because I don’t follow a particular faith, and two because I felt that their faith was being pushed on to me at a time when everything was so very raw and painful.

How you can help

  • You can help others by being there for them. Ask them if they would like to tell you about what happened, which gives them permission to share with you.  When they start to talk, be sure to really listen to them without interruption, without trying to fix things for them. 

  • Allow them to share their story with you. Use words like, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling.”  

  • Think about the tone you are using, if you are struggling to find the right words and you want to say how sorry you are then that is ok. Say it in a way that shows you mean it, with love and empathy.  

  • Offer to be there for them when they are ready to talk, or perhaps even to go out of the house for a walk or a coffee.  

  • Don’t stop asking. They may come up with every excuse under the sun, then one day they may well say yes. 

  • Practical offers of help are often appreciated. Offer to pick the children up from school, offer to walk the dog, collect some shopping or make a meal.  It is fine to say ‘there are no words,’ be honest with them.

By Jill Attree, Grief and Loss Specialist

and

Carole Henderson, Certified Grief Edu-Therapy Specialist

Winter Scenery
Supporting someone after losing a friend

Losing someone who is outside of immediate family but is close still brings about copious feelings of grief. However, because they’re once removed and not directly involved, they might be supporting those directly impacted, putting aside their own feelings as they try to be strong for others. 

How you can help

  • Ask them how they are feeling at the moment, and what support they’re receiving for themselves, then just listen.

  • They may need to explain in detail, so be patient, as they may not have had the opportunity to talk about their feelings until now. 

  • If they cry, reassure them it’s ok, that they’re allowed to grieve, too.

  • They may disclose they don’t know how to help the person/people directly impacted by the loss. You can signpost them to this guide to help them.

By Maria Bailey, Grief Specialist

Country Road
Supporting someone after miscarriage loss

Miscarriage is a heartbreaking loss that often goes unnoticed or is misunderstood by those around us.

However, the hopes, dreams and expectations the mother had for the future with her child began long before the heartache. We grieve the loss of the hopes, dreams and expectations alongside the loss of the baby.  It doesn’t matter at what stage the miscarriage  occurred, the grief is real and raw and unique to that person. 

 

People, often with good intentions, may say for example ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘at least you have your son/daughter’, ‘you will be able to try again’.  Whilst these comments may be intellectually correct, to the person grieving they are emotionally useless.  When comments like this are heard, it can lead the griever to isolate, to grieve alone, and they may feel that they don’t want to burden others with their grief.

 

Miscarriage can often have a big impact on the partner, too, and they can be forgotten. They also had hopes, dreams and expectations for their life with the baby. Please check in on the partner too. Sometimes we have no words and that is ok.  Just be emotionally honest.

How you can help

  • Avoid phrases such as ‘I know how you feel’.  We do not know how that person will be feeling, at best we can only imagine how they feel.

  • How hard it is for them. If you have suffered a miscarriage that miscarriage was your loss. Only you know how you felt, what you were going through at that time.  You could share that you also suffered a miscarriage and how you felt.  

  • Allow them to share their thoughts, fears and feelings.  

  • If they cry, allow that to be ok with you, we can feel uncomfortable when people cry in front of us and will often say ‘please don’t cry’ or ‘it will be ok’.  

  • We want to fix them and make it right.  We can’t do that but what we can do is take the time to sit and listen.  To really listen, without interrupting.  Tell them you are there for them if they want to talk.  

  • Ask them ‘would you like to tell me what happened?’  This can then give the griever the sign that they are in a safe place to share and that you will listen to them.  

  • Offer up some suggestions of how you might help.  Shall I walk the dog? Shall I pick up the children? Shall I do the dishes? 

  • When you visit a couple that has just had a miscarriage, involve the partner in the conversation, too.

  • Check in with both parties on how you can help them as a couple navigate the grief they are experiencing.

By Jill Attree, Grief and Loss Specialist

and

Eva Nabunya, Grief Recovery and Trauma Specialist

Forest Trees
Supporting someone after pet loss

We often hear the term “unconditional love” when people talk about pets. What that really means is our animals don’t ever judge, argue, abuse, or fall out with us, unlike our human family members. For some people, the bond with an animal is the longest relationship in their life, which is why pet loss can be more significant than non pet owners can comprehend, and just as debilitating as the loss of a significant human. 

Pets have different personalities, like children and adults. More than that, many pets provide unconditional love in a way that other humans can’t.  This can make pet loss particularly poignant, especially if their pet was a close companion and a support.  There isn’t much support in the community for this type of grief, so support from family and friends can be a real comfort.

How you can help

  • You can help by allowing them to share stories and photos of their pet. Listen attentively even if you’ve heard them before. 

  • Do not suggest getting a new pet. Just as with people, every relationship is unique and while a puppy or kitten may be a distraction, they cannot replace the bond and shared experiences they had with the animal that has died.


Here are some questions you could ask to show your support:

  • How long have you owned your pet?

  • How was your pet included in your daily activities?

  • What memories do you have of your pet that you would like to hold on to?

  • What will you miss most about your pet?

By Santou Carter, Grief Specialist

and

Carole Henderson, Certified Grief Edu-Therapy Specialist

Historic center from above
Supporting someone after a sudden loss

Sudden deaths can be challenging because the griever is likely to be in extreme shock and disbelief. The death may follow an accident or incident, perhaps violence, or could be the result of the active choice by the person who has died. Such circumstances may lead to significant distress for those hearing the news.

Hearing such news, regardless of how close or distant you are from those involved, can mean shock for you, too. Do not underestimate your own support needs: if you are helping others who are dealing with sudden death, ask for support yourself, from beyond the closest relatives or friends, so that you can continue to be there, for those closer. 


If you imagine an archery target with concentric circles, they would be in one of the rings, but parents, grandparents, siblings, and spouses are closer to the centre than you are. Taking the role of both the supporter and someone also in need of support can be tricky at times but you can support those further in, by drawing on others, further out.

How you can help

  • You can help by listening and being patient as the griever may want to explain what happened, as part of their own initial processing of the news. As curious or confused as you might be, avoid the temptation to ask lots of ‘clarifying’ questions; there’s time for you to get an account of what happened but it’s not now.

  • Be encouraging and open; listen, even if the story is mixed-up or if the griever is repeating themselves or if things are hard to follow. 

  • Encouraging words could be appreciated; showing you’re empathising will help the griever to articulate what is going on in their mind.

  • At the time of a sudden death, it is likely those closest to the deceased will have a lot of necessary practical tasks to do, none of which will be planned for. Practically, you can offer to help with communication to wider circles, if appropriate. If you can, tell people face-to-face or on the phone. Receiving a text message or email or reading about a sudden death can be quite shocking and is likely to lead to queries, so it may be helpful to have a conversation so you can show support and converse. Also, whilst social media is a quick way to broadcast news to a lot of people, it can be difficult for the person receiving the news, and consider whether this is your news to share.

  • Offer practical support, such as bringing food, and taking care of children, animals or elderly relatives that the griever might normally be responsible for. 

By Victoria Wilson-Crane

Author & Advanced Grief Recovery Method Specialist

Den Haag
Supporting someone after a suicide loss

It is difficult to overstate the additional layer of pain when a sudden death is a result of suicide. There almost certainly will be heightened anger, frustration, guilt, betrayal and anguish “why?” I once heard it described as “grief on steroids”. Remember that many of the questions the grieving person will be demanding have no answers. It is partly this never knowing that can make suicide so difficult to accept. Losing a loved one to suicide can be particularly isolating.

How you can help

  • Be aware of your limitations and be honest when you don't know how to react to what they're going through.

  • Avoid using the term ‘committed suicide,’ as this refers to a time when it was a crime to take your own life. It’s stigmatising and can be distressing. Instead, use more neutral

  • Also avoid saying, ‘they’re at peace now.’ It’s not a comfort to the person left behind. Steer away from calling them selfish, weak, cowardly, or even strong. Their loved ones need to come to their own conclusions and understanding about what has happened. There can be multiple contributing factors to someone completing suicide. 

  • Don’t ask ‘what happened?’ Although it’s natural to be curious, in the instance of a suicide, those left behind can feel like their loss is a spectacle and it can cause further feelings of isolation. 

  • Saying the name of the person who has died will be a subtle but effective way of showing your support, e.g., ‘You love (name) so much, this must be so hard.’ 

  • Don’t assume your friend knows they can talk to you. Be clear and tell them that suicide isn’t a subject you’re afraid of addressing, and give them permission to share how they feel without any judgement from you.

  • They might be in a state of shock and don’t want to talk about their feelings or the details just yet. Let them know you’re ready to listen when they do want to talk. When they are, reminiscing about the person’s life is often a more comfortable place to start, rather than focusing on their death and how they died.

  • Actions can show love and caring without saying anything. Doing laundry, cooking, shopping, and other practical help, such as with children will be welcomed. You can also ask them if they’d like you to create a task list with them for others looking to support them, too.

By Paul Butler, Emotional Vulnerability Coach

Yellow Flowers
Supporting someone after cancer related loss

Sometimes the diagnosis of cancer is detected so late that people only have months or weeks to say goodbye; and the physical deterioration can happen quite quickly.  It is a shock to see the rapid deterioration of their loved one, even though it is not a sudden death. 

 

When the end is near, many people can feel guilty about not having spent enough time with their loved one who is dying.  So, they tend to put their normal activities on hold to spend as much time as they can by their bedside.

 

This is where offering practical support can be most appreciated.  They are often too preoccupied in their thoughts to be able to convey their current emotions to talk much with anyone.

How you can help

  • Offer a lot of practical support and to do errands for them

  • Being able to spend time with someone who is dying is often perceived as a special time.  Enable them to have that time with their loved one.  Although you may want to encourage them to take periodic breaks, don’t cajole them to leave the bedside of the dying person or to do something with you.

 

Additional questions you could ask:

  • Would you like me to help notify anyone else or an organisation to come and say their goodbyes to your loved one, such as a faith community, Rotary Club, places they have volunteered etc.)?

  • Could we organise some kind of expressive artist to visit with you and/or your loved one? (this would depend on the location: home, hospital or hospice)

  • Would you like me to sit silently with your loved one for a while to keep them company, while you take a break?

By Santou Carter, Grief Specialist

Barley Fields
Supporting someone with anticipatory grief

Most people think of grief as something that happens after a loved one’s death. But grieving can also occur before death. This experience is known as anticipatory grief because it occurs in anticipation of a death or other types of loss - such as the loss of abilities or independence. Anticipatory grief can be experienced by loved ones, as well as the person who is ill or dying.

People who are aware of life-limiting health also go through all the same levels of grief. Not only do we have the loss of normal, work, freedom, hopes, dreams, and expectations, and the loss of the future we had planned with our loved one, they also experience the same losses.

 

There is anticipation on both sides of a situation that cannot be changed, a trajectory that was not chosen and cannot be controlled. It can be wholly overwhelming.

How you can help

  • They will experience the feelings of grief and loss more than once.Feelings of loss are not reserved just for death. Encourage them to acknowledge how they feel by asking them how they are feeling right now. By naming their feelings, it can help take the overwhelm out of them.

  • Being a carer for someone with a life-limiting illness can feel quite isolating. Signposting them to support groups can be so helpful at this time – right now there are many that are easily accessible online.

  • Being connected to others in the same situation is often very helpful. 
    If you are able, try and help them make time for themselves. Stepping outside for just five minutes of fresh air can make a difference, giving them a gentle recharge. Help them to eat and drink appropriately to keep their energy steady and help them stay well.

  • Allow them to talk while you just listen, without judgement or interruption. 

  • None of us need fixing, we do need to be heard.

By Debi Richens, Emotional Resilience Coach

Millhouse
Supporting someone with complex grief

How a person’s life ends can play a significant role in the grieving process. A ‘good death’ can lead to a less complex grieving process, however a sudden death or complex terminal illness can prove more difficult to accept as the griever can find it challenging to remember the person as they were before their illness. 

 

Societal attitudes can affect the grieving process as more focus is put on those who experience a tragic death, such as murder or suicide, versus those that die of an illness, such as cancer. Many people would agree that the death of a child is perhaps the most difficult loss to comprehend, followed by the death of a spouse or life partner, especially in cases of dependent or codependent relationships.

 

The personal history of those who are bereaved, such as previous losses they have experienced, their physical and mental health history, the nature of their relationship with the deceased, the support network they may or may not have, and their personal core value and belief system around death and dying all play a role in how a person grieves.

 

We hear many different terms used to refer to someone who may be experiencing complex grief, such as complicated grief, prolonged grief, chronic grief, unresolved grief, disenfranchised grief, pathological grief, etc. What all these terms have in common is that they are referring to a person whose feelings of loss are intense, persistent or worsening with time, and are having a significant impact on their lives beyond what is considered to be the ‘normal’ period of grieving (6-12 months).

How you can help

  • Listen, Listen, Listen…Actively listen, without distraction, giving your full attention.

  • Encourage and allow space for the person to talk.

  • Be patient as there may be a lot of repetition.
    Do not interrupt but let them know they have been heard, a non-verba
    acknowledgement.

  • Do not compare what they are feeling with your experiences or those of others.

  • Encourage them to continue talking to those they do trust e.g., family, friends.

  • Consider community supports e.g., bereavement support groups.

  • Ask if they have considered sharing how they feel with their GP and or engaging in bereavement counselling.

  • Continue to be present and supportive.

How can we recognise that a person is experiencing complex grief?

  • Feelings of pain and loss become more intense and worsen with time.

  • Persistent focus and rumination about the death.

  • Unable to accept the death.

  • Numbness, detachment and lack of trust in others.

  • Feeling hopeless, that life has no meaning.

  • Symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.

  • Struggle to carry out daily routine

By Aoife Douglas, Counselling Psychotherapist

Boardwalk
Supporting someone after divorce and relationship breakdown

While we typically think of grief as something that happens after a death, we can fail to realise that we can also face feelings of grief when we experience the loss of a relationship with someone who is still alive too. 

 

With the end of a marriage or relationship we can also experience the loss of our hopes, dreams and expectations of what we hoped our relationship would be like. The holidays we thought we would have, the dreams of what retiring together might have been like and living together, whilst our children grow. There is also a loss of identity of who you are perceived to be. 

 

Often parents attempt to numb their feelings in an attempt to protect their children and family as best they can from the challenging circumstances. These can leave people feeling as though they need to hide their true emotions and suppress them. 

 

People with good intentions can sometimes encourage us to focus on the future and what they might bring, for example “you're young, you have time on your side” and “I’m sure you’ll marry again,” as though replacing the relationship would resolve all the pain and heartache associated with our loss. Afterall most people don’t get married expecting it to end and then to remarry. Most go into the relationship with the hope that things will last and to build a future together.

How you can help

  • Understand that grief often involves conflicted feelings, for example, someone may know the end of the relationship is the right thing to do but still might not want it to end, too. By listening and acknowledging this internal conflict, we are giving a person the space to feel heard and validated. 

  • Sometimes, all people need is the permission to know it’s ok to feel what they are feeling, whether that's sadness, anger or something else. Most people don’t need your advice. They need to know they aren’t alone. 

  • Reflect back what they have told you to show you have understood, such as,  “It sounds like you miss the time you had together,” or “You feel unsure of what the future holds”. 

  • Avoid making negative statements about their ex. It's important to focus on how they are feeling and what they need right now. 

  • Remember, if you aren’t sure what to say, be honest! Tell them you don’t know what to say and you are here to listen.

By Emma Tomes, The Helpful Coach

Sunset
Supporting someone struggling
with fertility issues

Anyone can be challenged to have a family, regardless of economic status, race, religion or sexuality. The emotional pain of fertility can go unnoticed, often being hidden so we  can carry on as ‘normal’, when things are far from normal.  

 

Trying to find the right words to support a friend or loved one may not come easy.  People may say things with the best intentions, although meant with no malice, they do not help a heart that is broken -

‘You could try IVF’,

‘you have plenty of time.’  

‘Think yourself lucky you don’t have children, mine are a nightmare.’

How you can help

  • Show an interest, ask questions, allow the person time to answer and when they share with you do remember to actually listen to them. 

  • Ask them if they would like to talk about what is happening for them, allow them to lead the conversation. 

  • Be sensitive when talking about your own pregnancy or children. 

  • Talk to them, as talking is better than saying nothing because you are afraid it will upset them.

By Jill Attree, Grief and Loss Specialist

Forest Road
Supporting someone through grandparental, parental and child alienation

This is colloquially known as a ‘Living Death’ by people who live with alienation. Knowing their children, or grandchildren are alive but not having the natural relationship that one would expect to have.

This is usually as a direct result of marriage or relationship breakdown of the parents which then result in hostile behaviours designed to break down, or completely cut off the parent who no longer lives at home, as well as other family members, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. People in this situation are often very traumatised, and experience PTSD, so need to be supported with empathy and compassion.  Their hopes, dreams, and expectations of the family life, and future, that they had envisioned have been crushed.

 

There are so many complex feelings and emotions tied up in this situation. Shame, guilt, lack of connection, self-esteem, sense of safety, loss of emotional connection with the child, loss of awareness of the how the child is thriving, or not, in school and with their other friendships, unheard concerns about safety around unknown adults that have entered the child’s life, heightened levels of anxiety and depression at the unfairness of the situation, the list goes on - there is no one size fits all, everyone reacts differently although, there are many similarities.

 

People with good intentions often assume that you may have done something wrong, and will often state that the child will come back to them ‘when they grow up’.  Very often, neither of these things is true, and can crush the spirit of the griever who is experiencing debilitating grief at the situation which can make them feel even worse. Another phrase that is ill used is ‘time heals’, it really doesn’t, and is a phrase best avoided.

 

Most people who become disconnected from their children/grandchildren in this way live with a deep seated grief that gnaws away at them as they try to make sense of the situation they are in.

How you can help

  • Don’t compare the situation with something you have seen or heard - there is no comparison. Simple questions to elicit what the person needs to say are far kinder.

  • Don’t minimise what the person is saying, it is their truth and will often feel insurmountable as they struggle to understand why they are in the position they find themselves in, especially if unfounded allegations are made to various authorities, that are designed to make it even harder for the relationship to carry on in its natural form.

  • Make space to truly sit and hear what the person is saying, give them time. People in this situation will often comment that they feel like they have a limb missing - it is very common to physically feel the loss, and to be disorientated by it. Very often they will try to speak whilst sobbing deeply - encourage them to do so as this is known to allow better release of painful emotions. Remember they will often be deeply traumatised.

  • Don’t add your opinion, be judgemental, or criticise - none of these things are helpful, and can cause greater distress. Empathy and compassion are the most important parts of this journey.

  • The person may be experiencing greater financial distress due to the situation, especially if they are going through the court process. If you see they are struggling, simple things like offering to get them a hot drink and a snack are a very welcome support when they may not be eating or drinking due to their distress.

  • This may well be their life for many years, so be prepared to hear the situation repeated many times. Be compassionate and allow the words to flow rather than cut them off with ‘you have already told me this’. They will be feeling unheard, and possibly victimised by the many agencies involved, and often won’t remember what they may have said before, or will apologise profusely for their repetition - don’t make them wrong. 

  • Many who are in this situation will feel that they are being a burden - be mindful of your facial and physical reactions, they will be looking for reassurance from you and will notice any slight reactions that may give the impression that you would rather not be there listening to/supporting them.

  • My best advice is to be a friend with an open heart and ears.

By Debi Richens, Emotional Resilience Coach

Campfire
Supporting someone after loss of health

Our health is always in a state of flux, it is never fixed no matter whether we try to live a healthy lifestyle or not. Periods of ill-health affect us all and so it can be tempting to think we know how it feels for others. But of course, how we experience our own health is completely unique to us and so the best thing you can do for someone who has experienced a loss of health is to be compassionate and curious - never assume.


Our health can also change in an instant. Heart attacks, strokes and other acute conditions can result in a sudden loss of health as can accidents, trips and falls. Or it can be a gradual decline as in the case of a progressive illness like dementia or MS. Work, relationships, hobbies, spiritual beliefs, but most of all, the person's relationship with themself can all be impacted. It is not only our physical health which is affected, there can also be a profound impact on our mental health. We may also experience periods where we lose capacity to make decisions for ourselves.

 

In all these scenarios the person affected could experience the full range of emotions associated with grief and loss; shock and anger, denial, bargaining and depression and acceptance. These emotions come and go and can rise up again at any time. There can be multiple periods of mourning over loss of health. Even after a full recovery, the loss of health can still return to haunt both the person and their loved ones. The trauma of an intensive care unit hospital stay for example, can live long in the minds of both the patient and their loved ones. Talking about this really does help to process the experience and it may take many retellings of the ‘story’ so be prepared to listen, listen and listen again.

 

Loss of health can often result in a chronic health condition, but not always. With so many variables, it can sometimes seem difficult to know how to help someone who has experienced a loss of health. It’s natural to want to ‘fix’ things as it can be hard to watch someone we know change in ways that no one would want or have anticipated. There isn’t always a ‘cure’, and the human body is fickle; it can be impossible to predict how long it may take to recover (if ever). 

How you can help

  • It is not just the person who has experienced loss of health who must learn to practise acceptance, but also their loved ones. It’s a hard lesson; no one wants to see a loved one suffering or in pain. You don’t need to find solutions, so don’t grasp them. 

  • Use your own strengths. Some of us are good listeners, others find that hard. That’s okay, perhaps you feel more comfortable offering practical support. 

  • There are many ways to show compassion so do what feels right for the relationship you have together. 

  • Do keep in contact - you might not always get a reply straight away but even sending a meme once in a while lets the person know they are still important enough for you to be thinking about. And that is what we all want and need; human connection and to feel like we matter to another person, unconditionally.

By Pamela Muir

Counsellor and Psychotherapist

Green Field
Supporting someone with long term illness

There are many losses associated with long term illness, with many of the feelings experienced being similar to those of anticipatory grief (there is a separate section on this). It may be stating the obvious, but long term conditions are lived over years - there are periods of stability and then there are periods of acceleration and with each hiccup, one never fully recovers to the place they were at previously, it is a gradual erosion of ability, lifestyle and coping mechanisms.

 

It is when a person is in an active phase of disease that frustration and anger may predominate and it can be difficult supporting someone who is very angry, we may feel tempted to shout back, worse,  criticise or even placate. Frustration and anger are valid emotions and serve a very useful outlet for feelings that if internalised can cause yet more harm.

How you can help

  • Ask, “I can see you are very frustrated / angry, would you like to talk about it?”

  • If talking about it does not help, ask, “I can see that you don’t want to talk about it right now, what would you like to share?” “Can you tell me what frustrates you most?” 

  • It is important to let the person rant, let them scream and shout - if it helps. Above all, remain calm, patient and listen. There is no need at all for you to speak, you cannot say anything that makes it better.

  • Listening and being non judgemental is the best support you can give. Allowing the person freedom of expression is liberating. 

  • Remember, the person with a long term illness or condition has lived with this a long time, they have become an expert of their own body, they know what works and what doesn’t. If they are stuck with symptoms they don’t recognise, they have ways of getting help that have proved efficient in the past. They are not looking for answers, they are in need of a friend who can cope with the heat of frustration and anger and not take it as a personal affront.

By Carol Wright

Qualified Health Coach

Autumn
Supporting someone after job loss to ill health

How others experience the often painful, physical, mental and emotional, reality of health loss will be as individual as they are.
 
With some long-term health conditions continuing in the same vein; like working the same hours, or in the same role no longer becomes achievable. An enormous sense of loss may follow as people grieve their old life; when they were healthy (healthier) and they had the capacity to work. Loss of health can have an enormous impact upon someone's life, add to that loss of a job and it becomes even more profound.
 
Many people may grieve the familiarity, the lack of choice, perhaps the void that appears when work has to stop all together.The loss of the job can bring with it  loss of purpose, loss of identity, loss of a career, loss of financial independence, loss of self-worth. Try and be aware of the enormity of these changes for the person affected.
 
Just as with other long-term illnesses there will be periods of respite, there will be 'good days' and 'bad days' too. Remember no two people are the same. No two experiences are ever the same so avoid
making comparisons. It's also important to remember that others are affected by someone's long-term health condition; spouses, children, siblings and friends too. Patience and kindness are so important, be there for them and always listen. It’s not fixable but it is ever so supportable.

How you can help

  • Be aware just like with any other significant loss, that you don't minimise, judge or try and analyse. 

  • Chronic and debilitating long-term illnesses such as Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, etc, are often regarded as invisible health conditions. This 'invisibility' can often compound what is already a life-changing situation. A lack of knowledge, understanding and disbelief can escalate the person's feelings of isolation as they face their new 'norm', their new 'reality'. We can’t go wrong if we’re there for them, if we can be kind and we listen; their feelings, thoughts and fears really matter.

By Dawn Ford

Loss & Wellbeing Specialist

A waterfall
Supporting someone after job loss
or redundancy

Loss of a job creates the feelings of loss on many levels. The dictionary definition of redundant is “no longer needed or useful”. It is the role that is no longer needed, and not the person, but it can be difficult not to take this personally.
 
It can feel like we are no longer needed or useful, creating confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, depression, and panic. This is on top of the stress of paying bills and feeding the family when the income has disappeared.

How you can help

  • Telling them that something will come up and everything will be alright, is well intended, but when you are in the grip of fear and stress, it doesn’t always feel helpful.

  • Connecting them with people who might be able to support them in their job search or refining their CV and interview skills is a useful first step.

  • When we are constantly applying for jobs, it can feel draining and disheartening.

  • This adds to the feeling of not being useful or needed.

  • Look at inexpensive ways to break the monotony of the application process.

  • Anything you can do to support them to keep them feeling positive, upbeat, and focused on the future is a win.

  • Help them to focus on the opportunity the redundancy has given them. It can be the perfect time to take stock and reconnect with what they really want.  

  • It is an opportunity to start living in creation rather than reacting to everything else and everyone else’s agenda.

  • Reminding them of their strengths, experience and all that they bring to others is a brilliant thing to do.  It is easy to lose sight of our brilliance when we are being constantly rejected or ignored as we can be in the job-hunting process.

  • Job loss and redundancy can be the perfect opportunity to get off the hamster wheel, reprioritise and reorder life.  It is the perfect time to redefine what we would really like  life to look like.  

  • In the short term, we may need to take a job that isn’t aligned with our new vision for the future, while we finally start to create what we have always yearned for.

By Kirsteen Williamson-Guinn, Transformational Health and Life Coach