For those supporting the grieving:
Watching someone you care about struggle with a loss can be extremely difficult knowing there isn't much you can do to take away the pain they feel. Sometimes this can get uncomfortable and result in actions that don't align with who we are. For example, the two most common things I hear people do when they are not sure how to help are:
1. They "dissapear" from the person that needs support.
2. They give a response that completely invalidates the person they are supporting, such as "I know exactly how you feel" or "That does suck... wanna go get ice cream?" (Or insert whatever other idea you would suggest)
In the first scenario, people may feel that they are giving the person space or they don't know what to say so they would rather say nothing. Both are coming from a good space but they often give the wrong message - that you don't care.
In the second scenario, there is an element of trying to validate the person by saying you understand. The trouble with this is you are indirectly saying you have been in the same situation, which most likely isn't the case. And even if it is, your situation is yours so there is going to be a level that you do not understand from theirs. That's okay - you do not need to understand "exactly" in order to support. With the second message, there is another attempt at validating the person and then distracting them. However, this sends a message that the person's feelings are less important than ice cream.
So how can you support your loved one in a way that gives them the message you are trying to send? While these may not work for everyone, here are a few of the most common things I hear those grieving say they either appreciated people doing for them, or wished people would do for them.
Physical touch: Offer hugs. Hold their hand when they are crying. This can have a calming effect and offer support in a way that words cannot.
Offer to help out: Sometimes people grieving do not have the energy to take care of themselves or do everyday tasks. Making or bringing them food, cleaning their house, doing errands, etc. can make a huge difference.
Getting out of their house: Take them on a walk, go to the movies, go out to dinner, etc. They may not want to, but it often helps them feel more like themselves again.
Share a memory: Remembering a fond memory of a time when their deceased was alive can help. Showing pictures can also have the same effect. Some people are not ready for this one until later, so use your discretion.
Be honest: Tell them you're thinking of them. Send them something to show you are thinking of them. Do not expect a return response. Some people just need some time without engaging, but still appreciate the thoughts. It is okay to say that you do not know what to say. Many times that is the most appreciated response.
Avoid cliches: Saying things like "it will get better with time" can make the person grieving more upset. It sends them the message that they will forget the person they lost or will be okay with not having them in their life anymore.
Be present: The number one thing I have heard that is the most helpful is just being available. As long as you are there for them and they do not feel they are alone, you do not have to say much of anything.
Be patient: Grief is so different with each person, that there is no timeline or expectation for how long or how each person will grieve.
Most everyone has experienced some type of grief in their lives. If you can recall what helped you the most or didn't help at all, those will be good to keep in mind when you are supporting your loved ones currently in the grieving process.
If you are finding that things are too much to handle on your own, please offer these for support. I've listed a few resources below.
The Center for Living with Dying: 408-243-0222
Hospice of the Valley: 408-559-5600