we unexpectedly lost a member of my extended family. We were all in shock! The sadness that has
followed has reminded me just how painful and dark grief can be and the difference support can make
in the early stages of this process.
Most of us have grieved. Some have grieved the loss of a relationship, the passing of a loved one,
the passing of a pet. Any change to our lives can be mourned and the grief that follows is different
depending on the loss. I, like many of you, am well versed in the grief process. I've lost all my
grandparents, my father, a sister, my son, multiple pregnancies and pets. Each of these losses was
different, but all of them were profound, painful and changed my life forever.
When we lost James, my cousin's son, just last week, I couldn't help but relate very closely to my
cousin. I too, had lost a son. She was in shock and overwhelmed. I remembered feeling like she looked
- pale, exhausted, numb and heartbroken. Multiple family members asked me, “What do we do?”,
“How can we help her?”. Here is what I told them about the early stages of grief and how to help:
1. Little things feel like big things!
Just taking a shower is exhausting. Putting a few dishes in the dishwasher feels like an
accomplishment. So, if you want to help ask if you can show up with coffee and bagels in the
morning or bring dinner. Ask if you can do a load of laundry for them, run the vacuum or get
groceries. Show up emotionally and offer to help; giving a couple of suggestions of what you're
able to offer can be helpful because then they don't have to try and think of something at a time
when thinking feels nearly impossible.
2. Say something even when you don't know what to say.
When someone is grieving, we are often so worried about saying the wrong thing, or making it worse
that we freeze and say nothing at all, but silence doesn't express your feelings of love or support. I have
found that sometimes the best thing to say is “I don't know what to say, but I love you and I'm just so
sorry.” This is always appropriate and says a great deal about your care and concern.
3. Avoid platitudes!
This too shall pass, what doesn't break us makes us stronger, God never gives us more than we can
handle, time heals all wounds, and other phrases like these are not usually comforting. Even if you
personally found one of these phrases helpful it doesn't mean that someone else will, so please avoid
them. We say these phrases when we're looking to offer comfort or make sense of a painful situation,
but saying these kinds of things usually does the opposite of what you are hoping. They show that
you don't understand what the person is going through. Say something else, give a hug and say “I love
4. Offer comfort.
This can look like so many different things. I remember finding comfort in my pets, the steady caring
of good friends who showed up with dinner weekly for months, occasional cards or phone calls and
the friend who showed up with junk food and a silly movie to distract and support me. You know your
loved one, you know what they find comfort in, and if you're not sure, ask.
5. You don't know how they feel.
Sometimes in an attempt to relate to others and help them feel less alone, we will say, “I know how
you feel”. But, how could we? We don't know what it's like to be them and though we may have had a
similar experience, we never know how someone else feels, so just don't say it!
6. Listen, listen, listen.
Let them talk, or just sit with them in solidarity; sometimes silence can also be full of emotion that
needs to be expressed. You don't need to say much, just be there. When their grief feels overwhelming
to them, have the courage to just be present with them – if they want you there. The wave of grief will
end and having support through those moments can be priceless.
7. Keep showing up!
This is one of the most important things you can do! A few weeks after the funeral, most of the cards
and flowers stop, the meals stop and the silence can become isolating and painful. So, keep the support
coming. I had a friend who was in weekly contact with me for months! She would call and we would
talk for a few minutes about nothing particularly profound, but I knew she hadn't forgotten me and I
knew she would be there if I needed her. It meant the world to me. You can do the same thing for your
loved one who is grieving – in your own way.
Lastly, please make sure that as you support your loved one that you also have support. Losses are
part of life. We can't avoid them and we will all experience them, but the amount of support we have
through these losses can transform the experience. We don't have to leave others to grieve alone
because we're uncertain of what to do. Speak up, show up and love them through the process.
Chris Adams Hill, LCSW
More information about Chris Adams Hill can be found at www.southvalleytherapy.com