Doing Something: How you can be helpful
You, as a natural support, provide emotional and instrumental/practical support to people and help them cope with the bereavement and healing process. Many people feel unsure of how to respond, or worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. If you feel that way, it’s OK. It is normal, and good, to care so much about doing what’s right. Your job as a strong support is to face your fear and be as helpful as possible.
The table below shows support people have described as positive or helpful, and actions or behaviours people felt are unconstructive, or even harmful.
What to do
|Unconstructive or Harmful Aspects|
What not to do
|You provide instrumental and practical help, such as providing meals, offering transportation, helping to make funeral/celebration of life arrangements, and caregiving for children.||You give advice or your personal opinion on how to manage the grief or how to deal with the situation.|
|You give the person a sense of control back by supporting them in their own choices and decision-making. You are sensitive about offering and providing help to people.||You take over, make decisions for the person, and leave them with a sense of loss of control.|
|You express that you don’t know what to say or to do – and you are simply there by being physically present. You allow and are comfortable with silence. You let the person know that you can talk or meet at any time.||You don’t know what to say or to do, therefore you don’t get involved or engaged and avoid the person or the topic.|
|You show care, compassion and empathy. You have a genuine concern for the person.||You show no empathy and show a lack of emotional support to people – you don’t care.|
|You have some level of understanding of trauma, crisis, loss and the grieving process.||You are judgemental, such as criticism, embarrassment, or blaming the person.|
|You are respectful and trustworthy and keep what is shared with you in confidence.||You pry for information and share what was said with others, or even engage in gossip.|
|Do (positives)||Don’t (negatives)|
Open with messages of support such as “I care about you and I am here to listen”.
Acknowledge the situation.
Offer to help in practical ways.
Support and acknowledge the person’s feelings, experiences, and their perception of their experience.
Allow the person to ask questions.
Be conscious of your word choices, as some words may be emotionally charged (triggering) for the person.
Be willing to sit in silence.
Help the person understand not to expect every day to be the same.
Be aware when the person is ready to start AND to end a conversation.
Check-in on the grieving person and maintain your support after the funeral or celebration of life.
Understand that everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time.
Remember important dates.
Sending a text … “thinking of you” with a “no reply necessary.”
Find your own way to express your care and support.
Be honest – it’s OK to say “I don’t know”
Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” Avoid sentences that start with “At least.”
Don’t say, “Everything will be okay. You will be fine.”
Avoid platitudes, such as the death “was God’s will.’ or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
Don’t say statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.”
Don’t comment on the person’s appearance.
Don’t be sensational about the death.
Don’t try to shield a child from the loss.
Don’t discuss your own spiritual values about life and death (it is about the person’s views).
Don’t say, “If you need anything….”; rather, consider what you can do to make things easier.
Don’t tag grieving relatives in photos of the deceased person on social media.
Don’t advise the person to ‘keep busy’ as a way of avoiding grief.
Don’t tell the person to “Keep your chin up.”
Don’t advise the person to “Carry-on.”
Don’t inform the person “It’s time to get on with your life.”
Don’t try to fix the person.
Don’t look for positives – allow the person to explore this on their own
Please cancel “Good Vibes Only” and “No Bad Days?”
As a good natural support, you don’t stand in the way of a bad day or painful feelings. As a strong and appropriate support, you know that these feelings are part of the healing process, and you are encouraging the person you care about to process all of their emotions. You are keeping an eye out for concerning patterns or signs that more help is needed.
Helping in a Safe Space
Creating a safe space for conversations and support is providing an atmosphere free of bias, criticism, or judgement by supporting the person in their thoughts, emotions, or topic of discussion. A safe space is considered a place of allowing a person to feel understood, a place for learning, and most importantly, a space for a person to feel connected and supported. The person feels emotionally safe. You allowing this space provides an opportunity for the person to experience a sense of balance and deeper meaning of self.