It’s OK if this feels weird.
“Let me know if you need anything.”
While well-intended, this statement is more difficult to act on than most people realize. Support can be awkward to offer, and awkward to accept.
Accepting support is not a sign of weakness. It is an act of kindness.
Sometimes, admitting we need help feels like we’re failing. But think about a time you saw someone you know in pain. Think about how much you wished you could do something for them—even something small. That’s how the people who care about you feel. They know they can’t take away your pain, but they are desperate to find some way to show you that they care. You aren’t burdening them by allowing them to help you; you are actually giving them a gift.
It’s OK to accept support. It’s also OK to refuse support you don’t want or need.
Coaching supporters to get the help you need.
We often don’t know what we need. Even if we do, it can feel awkward asking for it. Here are a few strategies you can use to help get the best support possible.
Write a grief letter
A grief letter shares a little bit about where you are in your grief. It’s an opportunity for you to express the kinds of support you would appreciate (or not appreciate) at this time. Topics to consider are:
- Where I am now
- What you can do to help
- Things we can do together
- What I am doing to help myself
- If applicable, express appreciation for the help you’ve already been offered/received
You decide what you write and how much you share. You decide who gets to read it. Even if it’s never shared, the exercise of writing a grief letter can help us set aside time to really think about where we are and what we need.
Grief doesn’t end, but it does change. Consider updating your grief letter as your needs change.
Choose an advocate
Having an advocate can take the pressure to respond to each and every person off of you. It can be helpful to have one person who is able to help educate and organize other supporters. This way, you have one person to respond to, and you have someone to direct people towards. Maybe your advocate is the one person you allow to read your grief letter.
Give honest feedback
Grief support is hard to get right. If someone is doing or saying something hurtful, or just not helpful, it’s OK to tell them. Be honest. Acknowledge their intention, but tell them how it made you feel. Try to be gentle, but direct. Start by letting them know you are having this conversation because you care:
- “I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. Because I value our relationship, I want to talk with you about____________.”
You can also try to steer them towards what would have been more helpful. Keep it simple:
- “I know you mean well when you say/do ____________, but it actually makes me feel ___________.”
- “I appreciate the offer to ___________, but what would really be helpful right now is __________.”
If someone says or does something that feels good to you, let them know. Chances are, your people have no idea if what they are doing is helpful. They might not realize what a big difference their small gestures make. If they don’t think they are doing any good, they might give up trying. Even the smallest bit of positive reinforcement can make a huge difference—and might help you continue to get the support you need. You don’t have to throw them a parade, try a simple acknowledgement:
- “That was helpful, thank you.”
- “That was exactly what I needed today.”
Wait - I’m already dealing with grief.
I should not have to worry about helping others support me. They should just do it.
Let’s think about our own grief experience—do we always know exactly what we need? Or do we sometimes not know until someone gets it right (or wrong)? It’s the same for the people trying to support us. They probably won’t intuitively know what we need at different points in our grief—especially because grief changes all the time. What we need this week will not be what we’ll need a year (or ten) from now.
We know. This feels like a lot right now. But the fact is, most people don’t know how to support grief without a little guidance. The goal of coaching the help you need is to find ways to preserve your support network at minimal emotional cost to you.
Grief changes relationships, and different people have different strengths.
In all honesty, there may be some people who simply are not capable of supporting you in your grief experience. But there may be others who might surprise you, they just need a little guidance. You may have to learn which people you can go to for specific needs.
For example, you might have a friend who loves to cook and will keep you well-fed, but who isn’t comfortable sitting with you while you cry. Instead of writing that person off, try recognizing that they are supporting you in the best way they are able. It’s unlikely you will find a single person who is able to show up for you in all the ways you need. Let the cooks cook and the listeners listen.
You do discover, uh, who is comfortable talking about grief and who is not. And so some of my friends, um, can, can only be there for me, right? They can, they can be there physically, and they can love me and, but they don’t want to get into a conversation about my grief or about Drew. And that’s okay.
Um, we need to have different people to go to for different needs. We can’t expect everything from one person. Right? So, so I have friends who I can have those deeper conversations with and friends who are not afraid to get messy with me.