The experience of loving someone deeply and profoundly, only to one day have to suffer through the loss of them, is something that everyone under the sun is likely to experience at one point or another throughout life. After all, death is the one thing that all of us are certain to go through someday.
Support from friends, family, and other loved ones can help to ease the burden of grief. But the difficulty for us as friends of people going through a loss is knowing precisely how to support someone who needs it. There is no real way to be sure that you can find the right words or actions that will truly make a difference. Gaining an understanding of the process of grief and what someone experiencing it may be going through can help us to develop the skills that will allow us to genuinely be there for someone in their hour of need.
The signs that we witness in bereavement can often be confused with the signs of depression. Mental health professionals have articulated the stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. These are the stages one typically goes through during the grieving process. Over time, these stages have expanded, and we understand that grief is not necessarily a linear progression, but rather a spectrum of emotions that individuals move up and down and cycle through over time. Other emotions, such as anxiety, or even relief, are components of bereavement, but not often discussed for how frequently they appear.
Everyone grieves in their own way and bereavement times are different for everyone. Those experiencing loss commonly wonder if they’re doing it correctly, and the answer is that there is no defined normal time frame for grief. The important thing is for someone who is grieving to be gentle with themselves, and accept their grieving process without judgment. Self-compassion and patience are important. It doesn’t help to try and push the pain of grief away, or count the months wondering if one is grieving too slowly or too quickly.
Older adults are at particular risk of suffering physical, emotional, or spiritual decline after losing a significant other. They often have to manage multiple layers of loss, with friends and family members dying at an increased rate. This reality can cause older adults to become isolated, losing the structure that was offered by the social interaction and activities that once filled their time. Beyond losing loved ones, older adults may also suffer loss through life changes such as health concerns and lessened independence.
Community can hold you up until you can hold yourself up. A number of things are possible to do for a friend who has lost someone, such as:
- Witness your friend’s sadness without judgment
- Be there without trying to fix anything. As bereavement takes time, you should not interfere with the process or encourage them to move on.
- Listen, and try to avoid cliches like “you’re strong”
- Assist with chores that may be a burden at the moment, like cooking, shopping, and cleaning