This is gonna be a long one….
I am often asked how to help a griever.
“[A good friend of mine | a neighbor | my kids’ bestfriend’s mom | fill-in-the-blank]’s husband died… what should I do? How can I help?”
First of all i hate this for all of you. I’m so sorry.
Helping a griever is exhausting… but grieving is fucking horrible.
So, thank you for being a good friend - because I had such incredible help and support and love, I know how incredibly priceless it is. Thank you.
I’m writing this blog to help YOU, as an actively deep griever’s support system. And I’m going to give you a lot of things here, but I hope it helps.
First of all, 3 things to know about:
WHAT GRIEF IS NOT.
1️⃣ It’s not just death and divorce.
There’s 40+ different grief-induced life experiences you can have where you’ll feel the pains of grief. Though death of a spouse and divorce are the top two events in the Life Change Index Scale of stressors from a Journal of Psychosomatic Research article. This is good for you to know in general. Here’s a link to a printable I have of those grief-induced life experiences.
2️⃣ There is NO 5-Stages of Grief
Please do not refer or suggest that shit. That was a study done in 1969 on what a terminally ill patient could be going through. It was published in a book and handed out to nurses so that they might understand more of what their patients might be going through - but in NO WAY does it have anything to do with the survivors of death.
3️⃣ There is nothing you can say to fix it or make it better.
I know you know that. So instead of saying anything, just be a heart with ears and no mouth. Typically society is taught to say things that are really fucked up to a deep griever - things like: “Time will heal… Don’t feel bad, he lived a full life (OR) he’s not in pain anymore… Be strong for others… You just gotta keep busy… God only gives you what you can handle… Everything happens for a reason.”
All of that does not help the griever and what she is feeling right now. It may or may not be wrong, but it doesn’t help. The griever wants their person here now with them - and saying something like this might make her want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon.
Grief is normal and natural.
It’s complicated thoughts, emotions, & undelivered communications of the past, present, and unactualized future.
It’s physically painful; and in my opinion, the most painful thing I’ve ever felt.
WHAT EXPERIENCING GRIEF IS LIKE.
♥️ Your friend probably is having a hard time concentrating, focusing, or even wanting to do anything.
♥️ Nothing really matters right now. Everything is trivial. Her world has collapsed and time has stopped. Encourage self-care and kindness to herself. And her kids. And even that might be hard for her. At this point as a new griever, she’s surviving. Food is fuel.
♥️ She is unbelievably lonely and bone-fucking tired. Exhausted; emotionally and physically. Sleep as much as she wants. It helps your body rejuvenate.
♥️ She might have the need to tell you teeny tiny stories of mundane moments with her person. That’s called “The Relationship Review.” It’s normal for a new griever to go there - it’s like your life is flashing before your eyes, but it’s not flashing… it’s slow - and methodical - and you remember it all like it was yesterday. And then her heart will hurt unbearably because she’ll discover some things that she wished that she had said or done different, better, or more. Regrets are a beast. But you can’t tell her not to think that way… she can’t help it. It’s normal. Let her. You just love her, that’s your job.
♥️ You might find your friend has a need to talk and share stories about her person. Let her. Let her say whatever. It’s HER grief. Your job is to love her. And listen, without judgement. Listen to her. No matter what she says, no matter how fucked up it seems, grief has made sense of it in her head. Validate her feelings and let her know you’re here for her, you’re not here to judge her.
Do NOT say that she will grieve forever.
That’s not true. That’s what society believes because they don’t know any different.
But also DO NOT say that she won’t grieve forever.
Right now her grief is tied to her person and a newly active griever does not want her grief to ever leave her because if it leaves, where will that leave her person? If she doesn’t grieve anymore, has she forgotten her person?
The answer is no, but it’s not time for that.
It’s just important for YOU as her support system and friend to know that for her.
HOW TO HELP YOUR GRIEVING FRIEND.
♥️ Sometimes being in the same space with her will comfort her, and sometimes she’ll still feel all alone. She can’t help it. Her heart is in emotional chaos and logical strategy and decisions don’t always make sense the way it normally would. Sometimes just knowing someone was in my house with me helped ease my pain just a little… and yet, I also knew that I had to be in my house without anyone as well, in order to prepare to be there without Eric.
♥️ She might sleep too much or not enough. Let her. Lay down with her. Hold her. Or do shit for her while she sleeps.
♥️ She might overeat or not want to look at food at all. Depending, you might have to bring her a plate of food to remind her to eat.
♥️ Every normal activity we do is exhausting her to even think about doing and literally physically exhausts her to do.
Do it for her.
My best friend, Melissa, told me that she would tell others that if something is on your heart, do it. Don’t ask… just do. And do specific things like: cook, clean, dishes, do laundry, clean gutters - or recruit someone else, mow her lawn, fix the fence her husband never got to - or any other project that needs done.
♥️ Make concrete offers.
Like tell her you’re coming over on Saturday and bringing lunch. Or on Tuesday after school you’re picking up the kids to take them to Dave & Buster’s for dinner and games.
♥️ Don’t interrupt the emotional share.
When your friend is having a big emotional share with you, don’t interrupt her by handing her a tissue or touching her. You want her to process her thoughts and feelings. Wait to slide over to hug her after she’s shared the story or the thing. Doing it too soon interrupts her and sometimes grievers take it as if their sadness makes you uncomfortable, so they’ll stop sharing and we don’t want that.
♥️ Don’t pat during the hug.
Same thing with hugging - don’t pat them on the back. That subconsciously tells them that you’re uncomfortable with their emotions and you want them to stop. Give them a big hold. You’ll naturally know when to release them, trust me. And that type of hug is what they need.
♥️ Speak your friend’s husband’s name.
She didn’t forget that he’s dead. She is thinking of him every moment of every day right now. She doesn’t want anyone to forget him. Ask her stories… how they met, their first date, how he proposed or what their wedding day was like. She’ll love reminiscing those moments and it’s healthy to think of happy moments right now, too. Though these happy moments will also make her sad. And that’s okay. Remember, it’s all normal and natural. Everyone grieves differently.
♥️ Keep in contact.
Decide what you’re going to do, and then do it. Are you the friend who mails her a funny card every week letting her know you’re thinking of her? Are you the friend who sends her a text message every 3-days to tell her that she is loved? Will you come by every Thursday to have dinner with her and the kids? Will you come over twice a week to binge watch a new Netflix show with her? How will you stay in contact?
🚩 NEWSFLASH 🚩 Do NOT say “call me if you need anything.” She won’t. She doesn’t even know what she needs, because she only needs her person back at this point… everything else doesn’t matter.
Suggest to others to send her Amazon Gift cards so that she can shop online and avoid going out when she needs to. Or giftcards for dinner - or set up a meal train - when she doesn’t have the energy to cook - and she might not for a while. One gift I got was a $100 giftcard to Netflix - one bill I didn’t have to worry about that brought some entertainment and distraction from our sadness.
People want to help and show their love, but grievers don’t want just anyone around in their space…
♥️ Also. The book “It’s Okay You’re Not Okay” is my current favorite that will VALIDATE all the shit in her head. It’s especially good for new grievers. There are some things that I disagree with - like “you’ll grieve forever.” But we already talked about that. You can’t tell a new griever she won’t griever forever. She doesn’t want to hear that.
If she has kids. First thing - for sure - is to make sure she goes to the social security office for death benefits. It was a financial lifesaver for me while I was putting my life back together and taking a sabbatical from work.
And for younger children, I love this book - be sure to get the library binding version: Water Bugs and Dragonflies.
Ring Theory of Grief
A general rule about engaging with others in grief is what’s called The Ring Theory. Basically just remember that this is HER loss. She’s closest to it. She’s the center of the circle. Her and her kids. She’s allowed to say anything and everything about how she feels. You are there to comfort her. The next ring of people will be family and really close friends. Which means, if you want to talk about how much you miss your friend’s husband, too, then you need to share that with people who are OUTSIDE the ring of circle that YOU are in, otherwise, you comfort. General rule, dump out… comfort in.
Another question I get a lot of is
how and when you can recommend me
and the work that I do with the Grief Recovery.
1️⃣ If you see a Facebook post of mine that you think will resonate with her, share it. Or tag her in it.
Do it once, do it once a week.
Trust me, she’s scouring through all the information she can find on what it’s like to be a widow and what she might need to prepare for. Being a widow is scary shit.
And I have ways to work with me all over all of my stuff all of the time.
2️⃣ Give her some time and later send her directly to my website at KariDriskell.com to see if the Grief Recovery work I do is right for her. And encourage her to sign up for a discovery call with me.