Grief is a process that most people have experienced in their lives. It is an interesting fact that even though many of us have gone through it before we seem to forget how it was for us and lack knowledge on how to be with people who are in it.
Experiences with clients have shown that there are really only a few simple guidelines to follow to support people who are grieving. The grief cycle, which was put forward by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, contains the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Depending on where the person in grief is there might be slightly different approaches needed. The best way to find out which of the following suggestions would work, is to ask them.
Being there with them
As simple as it may sound, being there with the grieving person is the first and most important suggestions. It is true that sometimes time alone is needed or desired but more often than not, grieving people are left alone for too long, when in fact they need companionship. This might mean staying with them watching television or having a meal, asking them to join you to go out or just checking whether they wish you to come over and keep them company.
Asking them: How are you doing?
This question is often avoided for various reasons, either because the questioner is uncomfortable with their own unresolved grief that might surface or with the potential reaction of the person in grief. Sometimes days or weeks pass without them ever being asked by people who care for them. Dare to ask. There is no need to change the situation or trying to make them feel better – simply listen and show them you care.
Wanting them to feel better and get over it
Grief is a process that can take 2 hours, 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years or 20 years. There is no set time limit when people should be over it. Whether they are grieving for a loss that just occurred or for old unresolved hurt – all is possible and has its place. Your job as a support person is to allow them to be where they are at and not moving them into a stage they are not.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the grief cycle and its stages as being sequential. In my experience the stages can appear without any seeming order and be repeated if needed. I see the grief cycle as a spiral on top of a cake and the 5 slices of the cake representing the stages. As we travel along the spiral from the center towards the outer side of the cake we can revisit the stages (different slices) multiple times. Often the experience of ‘I’m feel the same way as before, nothing has changed yet’ is a sign that the client is revisiting a stage however they are no longer in the center but have travelled further outside.