How to support someone who is grieving

In October 2020, I lost one of my favourite people on Earth. My cousin. My big brother. Part father figure, part friend, part mentor, part influencer, part leg puller, part reality checker.

One day, at the ripe old age of 39, his heart gave up. His marathon running, vegan diet consuming, former national level athlete body just stopped working. It’s been four months now, as I write this. Every now and then, when I least expect it, I need to collapse into a soggy heap of tears and bedsheets.

He is survived by his parents, his wife, and his (currently) four year old daughter. I cannot even allow myself to empathise with them without completely falling to pieces. But through it all, my sister in law, his wife, has been sharing ways to support someone through grief. She’s telling it like it is. What not to say. How to help. When to help. What works. What doesn’t.

This post is a compilation of what she’s been sharing that I hope will be useful to someone some day. We will all have that day. We will all get that horrible phone call. We will say “I’m sorry for your loss” and know that it’s not enough. So here’s what you can do instead.

These pointers have been taken directly and with permission from my sister in law’s Instagram stories and highlights. Edited only for clarity and structure.

It should, of course, be noted that everyone grieves differently. Not every point will work for everyone. This is just a place to start if you have no idea what to do or how to help.

What to do

  • Just show up. Reach out with messages.
  • In the early days, reach out with food.
  • Reach out to help with the kids if there are any.
  • Reach out with a massage voucher.
  • In the later stage, show up on important dates (doesn’t have to be showing up physically).
  • Show up with messages and memories of their person.
  • Keep showing up weeks, months and years later.
  • Don’t take offence if they don’t reply to your msgs or invitations. They have so much going on in their heads and their lives that sometimes they are drowning. And although they may not respond to your messages, it maybe a lifeline that helps them keep their head above water. Just keep the communication going.
  • Grievers days can be lonely and empty. All the time spent with and conversations had with their person are cut off with a single heartbeat. Sending them messages, funny forwards, dark humour (only if you know they can handle it) will fill their time with something to distract them.
  • One little gesture from a friend who doesn’t even live in the same country has meant more than anything else. Every morning and every single night since my husband died she just sends me a good morning and a good night message. That’s all it takes. That’s love.
  • Be open and honest and say “I have no idea what to say or do. But I’m here.”
  • Tell them what a great job they are doing. Tell them that just waking up and getting through the day is a huge achievement.
  • Tell them anything else about them that you admire.
  • This is something that I haven’t experienced but have read from other accounts: Sometimes people lose their self confidence after a big loss. Sometimes people lose their identity. So reminding them about who they are or who they were and what their self worth is may mean the world to them.
  • Learn to live. Try something new. Do that thing you wanted to do. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

What NOT to do

  • Whatever you do, DO NOT send them forwards or messages about silver linings and hope and positivity and all that kind of stuff. It does more harm than good. It’s okay to say “Yes, it’s terrible. Yes, you’re going through hell. Yes, it’s unfair and it’s shit. I’m so sorry. I hurt for you. Yes he should have been here. Yes your dreams are broken, yes your heart is shattered, yes your life is in a million pieces.” Yes yes yes to every terrible thing. And say “I’m here.” And nothing more. Acknowledge my pain and sit with me.
  • Don’t just share grief related stuff either. Share normal stuff, mindless stuff, jokes or whatever else you would have normally shared with them.
  • DO NOT PITY them. Do not think of them as people with problems to be fixed. Just think of them as people who are enduring some terrible stuff and who need all the support and love in the world right now.

Plan for your future

  • Get a life insurance.
  • Make a will.
  • Make sure all your nominations are updated.
  • Read up on inheritance laws relevant to you. Inheritance laws in India are not equal and are dependent on many things — including the act under which your marriage was registered.
  • Think about who your child’s guardian/s will be if something happens to you. Have conversations with them.
  • Think about who should make the decisions for you if something happens to you and/or if you are incapable of deciding for yourself. Make sure to tell everyone involved about your decision.
  • If you have any wishes of what should happen to you post death, make sure to tell everyone around you.
  • Think about what you want to happen to your important possessions it could be your clothes, your phone or anything else.
  • Do you want to be an organ donor? Make sure your loved ones know.

Additional Resources for young children

Death is something we don’t like thinking about. If we do, we only think about it in the context of the generation before us, those who have lived their whole lives and are ready to rest. We don’t talk about sudden death. Untimely death. Death of someone close to us. We don’t talk about how death comes with logistics as much as it comes with grief.

I hope this helps you, griever, or friend of griever. I hope that even in his death, my wonderful cousin, and in her grief, his amazing wife can make your life a little easier.

Thanks for taking the time to read something I wrote/compiled/transcribed. I don’t put any of the content I post behind a paywall because I feel like it should be accessible to anyone who needs it. That being said, putting together content takes time, effort, and thought. I’m a freelancer without a salary and I live off the gig economy and the contribution of patrons. If you would like to contribute to my work (you can give as little as $2 or 150 rupees a month) please click here: https://www.patreon.com/urvashi

Actor, Struggler, Agony Aunt