Helping with Pain
How do I comfort someone who is grieving?
Simply said, the way to comfort someone who is grieving is to give them the support and structure they need to go through the process that is unavoidable.
Grief is a letting-go experience, letting go of defenses, control, the things that have been lost, emotions, niceties and the like. But to let go, someone has to be held up. The facilitator of grief is the person who is the life support and the one who holds up the grieving companion while they let go of their emotions and enter a very natural process that God has designed. So, the facilitator’s job is to provide the comfort, safety and structure that helps allow that to happen.
Consider the following:
- Use active listening and empathy. Give empathetic statements that show that you hear and understand what the person is experiencing.
- Be emotionally present with the person. Look them in the eye. Reach out and touch their arm. Show that you truly are with them.
- Ask questions that require something other than yes or no answers, or factual responses. Instead, ask questions that allow them to talk: “What has this been like for you?” “I cannot imagine what you have experienced. Tell me how you have coped.” Open-ended, process questions.
- Watch for the ones who are too overwhelmed to process. Grief is good to express, unless the person is too overwhelmed to truly grieve. In that case, they need containment rather than to open up. If it is too much for them to express their grief, help them to feel safe and gain control. Tell them you will be there with them, and don’t try to get them more into what they are feeling at that time.
- Don’t offer pat answers or platitudes.
- Offer practical help that restores the structure of life. Do they need a ride somewhere? Do they need a meal? Do they need errands taken care of? Do they need help with insurance forms? These things are of great comfort and restore the structure of life.
- Remember rule No. 1: The biggest comfort you can give is the fact that you are there and you care. Don’t worry about having all the answers or solutions. Your presence and care is the biggest support you can offer.
- The biggest help is to give them a time and a place to talk. Do not try to sidestep the process that they feel, with all its different emotions, or try to make it tidy. Grief has to travel its own path. Use active listening and empathy. Ask questions that get the grieving person to talk about what they have experienced and the meanings that it holds for them.