We at Experience Camps for grieving children are the first to say that everyone goes through the grief journey in their own way; there aren’t rules to follow and the process isn’t linear. But we have talked to enough people who are or have been grieving to know some truly generous ways to show up for them. Below are our favorites, although we recommend asking the person if the action is wanted first.
- Share stories. One of the hardest parts of facing the death of someone we are close to is the fact that we won’t get to make any more new memories with them. So it’s often a huge gift to share with people grieving a new story, picture, or memory about the person.
- Create a scrapbook for them. Ideally pages will be filled with images of the person who is grieving with the person who died. But even if you just have pictures of the person who died, it can bring real relief, especially for kids who worry they’ll forget what their person looked like. Drawings of memories can also make for a wonderful scrapbook!
- Let them know they can call anytime. It often means the world to people who are grieving to know there is a friend they can call day or night. You never know when a wave of grief hits, and this open-ended offer can be a true security blanket. But only say it if you mean it and will pick up the phone.
- Invite the person to do something social. Friends and family are often so worried about “giving space” to those who are grieving that they stop inviting them to do anything. Typically it makes those who are grieving feel even more alone. So invite them to do something and trust they’ll let you know what works for them.
- Check in on milestones. The holidays and anniversaries can be extra hard on someone who is grieving and this is a good time to check in. We tell ourselves they don’t want to be bothered but it never hurts to check in. Don’t assume they are feeling any particular way; just ask and listen. You don’t have to fix anything.
- Give them a small gift they’ll use regularly. It can be a snuggly blanket, soft socks, a necklace…something that will remind them that there is someone (you) who cares deeply about them.
- Offer an act of service. Let them know you’ll be shopping and ask what you can pick up for them. Offer to babysit their kid(s) so they can go take a walk. Or offer help with their taxes, laundry, sending bills or other services you think might be helpful.
- Say the name of the person who died. People often stop saying the name of the person who died in front of the person grieving so as not to upset them. But for many people, it just makes them feel the person who died is being erased. Ask the person grieving if they might want to share any stories with you about the person who died, or tell you more about them.
- Drop off nourishing foods. It’s often hard for people who are grieving to bother making healthy meals for themselves and/or their family. Rather than dropping off casseroles or junky baked goods, send over healthy soups or other nutritional meals.
- Listen; don’t give advice. We tend to share our “wisdom” with people who are grieving as a way to cheer them but we just don’t know how our words will land. What works for one person may be offensive to another. Instead of doling out advice, just let them know you’re there for them and would like to listen.
Visit talkaboutgrief.org for more ideas and to learn more about what to say and not to say to someone who is grieving.