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Common Mistakes People Make When Trying to Help Those Who are Grieving or Distressed

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

For many, grief is not an easy topic to discuss, let alone something you feel equipped to deal with when it shows up. Because of this, it is not surprising that many of us have never really had the opportunity to have open and informative conversations about grief and how to assist friends, loved ones, and even ourselves through the unexpected and unanticipated parts of dealing with a loss.

Whether experiencing the death of a loved one, or some other sudden loss or dramatic change in circumstance, there are mistakes many of us make trying to help people through - often with the best of intentions. Here are some of the more common ones, and how to implement empowering ways of creating ease and contributing to loved ones in grief.

Assuming their needs

Grief is not predictable. And it never shows up the same for any one person. Even day by day and moment by moment our requirements and needs change, and it is important to acknowledge this. For most of us, our only reference point for handling grief is treating someone the way we believe we would like to be treated in the same situation, but what if, instead, you came from a perspective of question and asked, “How do they desire to be treated in this moment?” And ask them: “What do you require right now?” Or simply, “Can I do something for you?” Sometimes, in the midst of grief, it is hard for someone to know exactly what they require, but if you are willing to ask them questions, and then follow your instincts rather than assumptions, it will contribute to easing their pain.

Offering solutions and advice

One way many of us try to help people in difficult situations is giving advice, trying to fix things or sharing stories of our own grief. Unfortunately, this isn’t a situation you can fix. And sometimes the greatest contribution you can be is to be present without judging what needs to be done or needs to occur. Be willing to listen. Having a neutral ear to listen to and not have to worry about how it will be received or what the reaction might be creates a greater sense of ease and peace. For kids too, this can be a true gift. Finding a neutral person to talk to, one who removed from the situation physically and emotionally, can create a space of trust where kids know what they say is in confidence and they don’t feel pressured to say certain things or have a particular response, can help to relieve a lot of stress. Having a space to cry or not cry, be angry or not angry, or whatever they desire to be or do, without being analyzed or worried about can make a huge difference in someone’s ability to deal with things and move forward. Rather than trying to help with advice, how can you listen and empower them to trust that they can find their way through grief their own way?

Forgetting about bodies and physical nurturing

Our bodies feel the impact of grief too, and yet for many people in distress, listening to their body is often the last thing on their mind. Health, however, is so important to maintain as the body will support healing if you are willing to take moments to care for it. What if you would be the support system that allows your loved one to take nurturing steps for their body? First of all, ask them questions - what would contribute to their body right now? Maybe receiving nurturing touch with a massage or Access Bars session, or taking a hot bath, or a walk in nature. Something as simple as making sure there is food available or coordinating a group of people to cook and run errands that can easily be handled by others can contribute greatly. Even just asking, “Do you require some water, sugar or salt?” can allow them to tune in and pay attention to the signs and symptoms their own body might be sharing with them. Don’t neglect your body either - we might begin to dismiss that for ourselves because we are becoming the caregiver taking care of others involved. Nurture your body and it will enable you to handle a lot more and with a lot less physical stress.

Getting caught up in regrets and unresolved issues

Some people have warning and can prepare for the loss of a loved one or significant change, but for many, this doesn’t occur. For some, dealing with all the practical elements that were not prepared for or anticipated can become a source of distress - someone trying to up-sell you on the casket, not knowing where important documents were kept, or disagreements on what kind of ceremony or celebration your loved one desired. Other regrets, angers and unresolved tensions can arise, not only regarding the person who passed, but with others such as family members who may have been estranged from each other, coming together for the first time in many years. It can be very easy to get stuck in the upsets, problems and seeing things as horrible or wrong.

Rather than take sides, go into ‘fix-it’ mode, or try to change their point of view, what if you could ask them some simple questions like, “What did you admire about this person?” “What can you be grateful for this situation?” and “What is there to be grateful for regarding how this played out/ is playing out?”

Focusing on judgment or upset is like getting stuck on a roundabout: you keep looping around and around with the same thoughts and feelings, getting nowhere. If you invite a moment of gratitude, recalling a good memory, celebrating something about the situation or the person you are grieving, it gets you out of that loop and open to different ways of seeing things.

Not thinking about or discussing your wishes with loved ones

This common mistake may seem a little left of field, but at a time when we are helping people we care about through grief, or grieving ourselves, it can be a positive opportunity to become aware of the unexpected things that can arise with grief that you may not have considered. If you are willing to ask yourself, “How would I like this to go if I was the one leaving? What can I take care of so it is easier on my loved ones?” and take some actions to implement the future care and support of your loved ones you’d like to occur. After my father died, it was a wake up call for me to put some things in place to make it easier on my family should the unexpected happen - I bought the plot, I told my kids that they don’t have to wear black and to have fun and celebrate me.

Grief is a time when a lot of mixed emotions and unexpected challenges can arise. But if you are willing to approach it all with gratitude, question, and no judgment, you will have a positive and empowering influence on those you desire to contribute to at a difficult time in their lives.

Laleh Hancock is a transformational facilitator and business coach with more than 25 years of experience building companies and individuals that win. She is the founder and president of Global Wellness for All. Whether partnering with a Fortune 500 company or an entrepreneurial stay home mum, Laleh is dedicated to empowering people and organizations of all ages and stages to grow and expand. Laleh is a certified Facilitator for Access Consciousness, including Being You, a specialty program of Access Consciousness. She meets people where they are and provides practical tools to empower people to create more joy, ease and possibilities in life. Laleh served on the Governor’s Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council for four years. Follow on Twitter at @Belapemo.


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