How To Talk To Someone Who’s Grieving

Chances are, many of you have yet to experience grief. I’m talking about earth-shattering, soul-crushing, have-to-convince-yourself-to-breathe, grief. The kind that makes you question every.single.thing regardless of how or why “it” happened.  Many of you are in this space. I was too, not so long ago. 

Everything changed for me the summer of 2015: the summer I lost my mom. To be honest? I’m still reeling a little…some days, more than I’d like to admit. After all, walking through grief is like one morning waking up in your puffiest winter coat; the one with the huge hood that closes so tightly only a slit of your eyes can peek through, and has so many layers you could stand outside in freezing weather for a long time before your body felt the effects. So that even if someone would come up behind you and touch your shoulder, you would know it, but wouldn’t feel a thing. It’s ironic that my puffy coat came to me in the middle of the hot summer heat. Still, grief knows no bounds.

Before that summer I had only experienced grief second-hand. The awkward place of being close to something to feel so crushed by it, but also fully recognizing that as sad as you feel, you could never understand what the people directly effected must be walking through. Perhaps many of you have experienced grief this way as well, and like me, were totally unsure of how to talk about it…or wondering if you should even bring it up. 

The answer in short is, YES! Bring it up. Talk about it. Awkwardness and all. Trust me, it’s better to say something. Here are some ways people helped me in the months since that summer…as well as a few conversations to avoid. 

First and foremost, know that if you are talking to someone who’s grief is fresh, very likely they will be so consumed with their own blended-up-and-spewed-out life that they will literally have no room to consider your feelings. This sounds harsh, but you need to be ready. After all, this person’s world will never, ever be the same. So, you need to prepare yourself to not take it personally, whatever happens. The friends who helped me the most in the days and weeks after my mom’s passing were those who I knew I could be real with. Real with my anger, real with my stress, real with my devastation. The ones who didn’t take it personally when I was short on the phone or crying outside the grocery store for the umpteenth time because going in meant seeing other women my mom’s age. The ones who knew that in that moment, it simply wasn’t about them. That it couldn’t be, even if I desperately wanted it to. 

Secondly, know that the grieving person wants to acknowledge it. Please note that I didn’t say “talk about it”; because, at first that person simply can’t. Acknowledging it is different. I wanted people to know–to say, “I’m so sorry! I heard about your mom, that SUCKS.” One friend’s husband who I barely knew just quietly said to me at a dinner months after, “I know it’s hard to be here. We are so sorry.” It meant the world. Acknowledge it…even months or years or decades later. Even if you’ve never said anything before and now it feels like too much time has passed. Trust me. 

Send a card. Send a text. Write down the anniversary of the person’s grief and make a note to reach out that day. Share a memory of the person who was lost if you knew them. All of these small things mean more to someone who’s grieving than you could imagine. Just a simple “thinking of you….” is all you need. 

To that end, please be aware that the person who is grieving does not need answers from you. They don’t expect them, either. Please do not feel like you need to solve the situation; especially if the grief is raw. Instead, let the person feel the weight of her emotions. Sharing your experience with someone who is grieving is a tricky thing, especially at first, and is often best done when you have a trusted relationship with that person. 

Remember, that once a person wakes up in her puffy coat, she will always have it. Some days it will be thicker than others, and with time, it will lessen in it’s depth. However, it will never leave. The weight of grief is something she will carry forever. Still, to the grieving person, that weight is something to be cherished because it is a daily reminder of the love she shared with the person she lost. 

So, speak up. Reach out. Put the awkwardness aside. Your ability to do so means more than you know. 

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