Living in a community is one of the greatest joys of life and it also poses some of the most incredible challenges. To live in a community is a complex and nuanced thing that looks different from society to society. Events like marriage, birth, graduation or career development are all celebrated uniquely from culture to culture. Other aspects of life such as death and grief are also uniquely reverenced and walked through.
Regardless of background or practical views of community living, the greatest benefit to living a life where others are actively involved is that they can comfort you. This comfort is not just needed around celebratory moments but also around the tragedies and hardships of life.
There is no other time when an element of community is most needed then surrounding the death of a loved one. Death itself is a very natural part of life and something that each individual and community must face. Having others by your side and being there for others during times of death is a noble thing to do and one of the most important parts of supporting and loving those you do life with.
Supporting a Loved One Experiencing Death Is Not Easy
That does not mean that comforting someone when they experience death is an easy task. In fact, of all the moments when you will be interacting with those you love, supporting them through the journey of loss is one of the most challenging.
That thought of having nothing to say and feeling helpless when a loved one is in grief is universal and normal. It’s one that every person who has been in your shoes has felt. The hard part about understanding grief is that it is this odd mixture of both science and emotion.
Grief, for many, is a part of experiencing death. It’s how our minds and even our bodies adjust to the very present reality of experiencing life without a huge factor that shaped it. When a person loses a loved one, they quite literally have to relearn how to live in some aspects of their life. This takes time, it takes patience, and it takes a lot of love and space.
On the other hand, what makes grief complicated is that it’s not a scientific formula. We will experience grief in our own unique way. Because every person will walk their own road through grief, finding the right words and the right timing to try and comfort a loved one can seem daunting.
Their emotional and mental state is understandably and even healthily more fragile than their norm. The fear of trying to comfort and make a situation worse is undoubtedly one of the greatest hindrances. However, there are certain aspects of grief that you can be aware of that will help you better know when and how to comfort your friend.
The Stages of Grief
Grief itself has general, observable stages that have been observed and mapped out. Most people will experience these emotions in this order. What makes the grief unique, is how they experience these stages and how they express them.
While there are typically five stages of grief that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, not everyone will experience all of these stages (and that is just fine). How we experience grief is a completely personal experience, just as it should be.
Learning about the possible emotions that come with grief can help you identify where your loved one may be and this will help guide you in words of comfort surrounding the process of death. Comforting a loved one who is dealing with death is not just a one-time ordeal. Be aware of the fact that as the anniversary of a death rolls around, your loved one will still need to hear words of comfort. Those words, how they are delivered and what is said will change through the years, but they will still be needed.
Symptoms of Grief
There are even physical manifestations of grief that your loved one may be experiencing around an anniversary of grief. These can look like a loss of appetite or trouble sleeping. This can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and depression. Being aware of the physical toll that grief can have on a person will help to guide you on how to comfort them.
Practical Advice for Words of Comfort
How do you know what to say and when to say it? The simple answer is that you will never truly understand how to perfectly comfort a loved one surrounding a death or the anniversary of a death. It will always feel a little bit like a shot in the dark, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s better to be cautious and careful than brash and overconfident.
What your loved one is experiencing is uniquely their experience and respect that is worth the trouble of worrying about how to comfort them correctly. The one thing you don’t want to do is not comfort them however, so here are some practical steps to help you develop words of comfort.
There is only one of you and if a loved one is experiencing grief, then use the knowledge that they love you for being uniquely you. Too many times a person can draw back in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing or greatly modify how they want to comfort. As long as you are being mindful to give your friend the space and guidance they need, let your own unique personality come out in the words you share with them.
Pair Your Words With Practical Service
A great tool to pair your words of comfort is with a gift. This can look like a nice card that you write a heartfelt note inside or even a bouquet of flowers. However, don’t be afraid to take another step toward comfort and find some practical act of service your loved one could benefit from. Maybe it’s as simple as cooking a meal or cutting the lawn, but a practical act of service can speak volumes to someone who is grieving.
Grief Is not Linear
The stages of grief are not linear, so you might see your loved one jump between them. This can be hard to understand from the outside looking in. Giving your loved one the space and the patience to experience the stage of grief fully can be hard so be sure to give yourself the space and patience you need to be there for them.
Speak From the Heart
The most important takeaway is that during a time of death whether it is an anniversary or not, you are needed. Your ability to step into the life of a loved one and share words of comfort and acts of love and service is very important. Don’t let the fear of not knowing exactly how to do it hold you back from trying and comforting someone who needs it to the best of your ability.