Advice for supporters

We asked people who have lost a loved one to share their best advice for supporters:

Part of people's response to grief comes from a place of wanting to help, wanting the other person not to be sad or suffering. Uh, and, and it's okay to let someone be sad. It's okay to let them have their feelings, um, and you'll find out who, who the people are, who can be with you when you're sad and when you're crying.

It is okay to ask that person how they're doing. It might not be the answer that you're looking for because that person might not be doing okay, but it's okay to ask. And it might make the person upset. I guarantee you there will be tears, but we need to talk about it.

In the moment, and then many times forever after, you don't know what you need. And I think a lot of my closest family really struggled with the fact that I wasn't telling them what we needed.

I think that when you are in the midst of grief, the people that kind of rise up to the top and support you through it, in the acute and in the chronic stages of grief. They are, they're the people that never ask for anything. They just continue to support you, and validate you, and acknowledge without asking for anything in return. There's, there's nothing like that.

The people that have supported me the most, have supported my family the most at a very empiric level say that, "We see you," that "We're here for you," and that, "I'm giving this to you because I think that this is hard, that, that you're suffering." And you just, they don't want a thank you card. They don't want to know how the soup tasted (laughs). They don't, they don't ask any other question after that.

That's what, that's what it looks like to me. And I've had, I've had some really close friends who at, at work and my outside of work life who have just asked me, you know they've asked me about how to be a supportive person to someone who is in grief when you don't know how to do it. and I tell them that, I tell them to be consistent and to give without asking anything in return. They show up, and then they show up again, they show up again. They do something, and they ask for nothing in return. Not even a conversation. Not even answering the doorbell. They'll knock once, leave it on the front step, and walk away.

A couple months after we lost Drew. My husband and I went to a wedding. And, um. Someone, an acquaintance, not a close friend, um, told me she was so sorry. And then, a few sentences later, she looked at me and she said, "Do they know what it was?"

And, and I just, I mean, I was so taken aback.

I thought, she's, uh, "What is she asking me? Do they know what it was? She wants to know what it was that killed him. How, how do you ask somebody that?" My friends hadn't even asked that , right? Kind of, stop me cold in my tracks. I just couldn't believe it. That somebody would ask that.

I, and, and that's, I think part of, you know, when you, when you speak out, and when you, when you say, "My son died from an overdose." People think they have the right to ask questions.

I think people struggle with confronting grief, and also supporting those who are in grief, because we know we're bad at it. It's almost impossible to acquire proficiency at grief, because every situation is different.

I think one of the biggest aspects for me is just being able to be open and honest and listen, as well as give your input, but not tell people what they should think or how they should feel.

Because despite how well you might think you know somebody, or appreciate how they may feel at that given moment, you don't.

You just have a very objective view, and the only opinion that matters in that moment for that person is their subjective view of what's happening.

It's very challenging, I think, and people shy away from challenge. Nine times out of 10, you're going to probably strike out trying to help somebody who's grieving, but the fact is, you've got to be persistent. You've got to keep helping them, keep talking, keep asking the question. Offer your assistance, your support, your love, your interest. Just letting people know that you matter, and you care about them and you take an interest in what's going on in their life, I think that that goes a long way.

One of the things that helped me was that someone, a really good friend, just decided that he's going to call me every day. And just check-in. And that went on for months and months. And that was just helpful. It was helpful to know someone was checking in. Um, that I could just talk about whatever I needed to talk about. Um, that I could expect it at some ... That was nice, just knowing someone else was there.