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How to help those coping with grief and loss

By The Health News Team | August 30, 2018
How to help those coping with grief and loss

Grief is a natural healing process. It is a journey that slowly takes you from the pain of loss to a place of hope and peace. It is different for everyone.

Kelly Engleson, LCSW, a bereavement counselor with Sharp HospiceCare, says that the grieving process takes time. We cannot — and should not — try to adjust to the loss of a loved one in an instant.

She offers her thoughts on common questions about grief and loss.

Does everyone go through the five stages of grief?
The five-stage model of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — can be useful in normalizing some of the typical emotions in grief. However, I’ve found that this model can be limiting as it also implies that grief has a certain order, that it is a linear process and that there is one right way to grieve.

Initially, there is often a numbness that occurs immediately after the loss where the reality of the loss has not fully registered. Over time — and this can be several months — as this numbness goes away, the reality and finality of the loss sinks in more fully and grief is then experienced more deeply. This is often a time that those grieving feel they are getting worse; however, we know that this simply means they are taking the necessary steps toward healing.

Why do some seem to move through the loss of someone at a pace — either faster or slower —different than others?
Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process. Not all losses are the same and not everyone’s grief response will be the same. This will affect the way grief is experienced for each person. Healing through grief is the process of integrating the loss into your life. Over time, as healing occurs, grief should soften and become much more manageable.

How can you help someone cope with grief?
I cannot overemphasize the value of being present. It is often difficult for others to be present for another person’s pain. It can feel counterintuitive, as the tendency is to want to fix it and take away their pain. Being able to offer a caring presence to another human being who is suffering is more valuable than is often realized. Loved ones can support people through their grief, but not protect them from it, nor should they.

Along with being present, additional things you can do for a grieving loved one include the following:

  • Offer to help with practical matters, such as running errands, fixing meals or child care

  • Be patient

  • Accept whatever feelings are expressed

  • Encourage self-care

  • Be willing to talk about the deceased — say their name and share favorite memories and funny stories

What are some of the signs a loved one is healing and moving forward with life?
Healing through grief often takes much longer than we expect. It is common, then, for our loved ones to worry as time goes on and grief doesn’t seem to end. After some time, however, you should notice that the symptoms of grief decrease, that there are signs of engagement with others and, generally, self-care will be evident.

Healing includes no longer resisting the reality of the loss but rather learning to live with it as an inescapable fact of life. There can be positive outcomes from a healing grief experience, as well. Your loved one may become more aware of those still here with them, more compassionate and open to new experiences and relationships.

What should you do if you fear a loved one is denying their grief or coping with their loss in unhealthy ways?
I’d recommend compassionately communicating your concerns in a way that expresses your love and caring for them without judging them or comparing their grieving to the healing process of others.

It is also sometimes helpful to encourage professional support. This may be through their medical doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, spiritual leader or a bereavement support group.

Learn more about Sharp HospiceCare bereavement support groups and services.

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