Coping with Grieving


coping with grieving

By Ashley Whitaker, NCC

Grief is inevitable. It is something everyone will experience at one point or another. It is the only guarantee in life, yet the topic is typically taboo and uncomfortable for most. Often times, it’s treated like a problem to be solved, as if there’s something that can be said or done to make it all magically go away.

When someone responds to grief by withdrawing or being exceptionally sad for what others deem a long period of time, they are treated as if there is something wrong with them. We’ve all heard the classic responses: “They wouldn’t want you to be
sad,” “they’re in a better place now,” “at least you had them for as long as you did,” and several other unhelpful phrases that fill space but do not fix someone’s grief.

The harsh reality of grief is this: it will never go away, it can never be fixed, and there is nothing anyone can do to make it better. Megan Devine, author of It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok, writes: “There’s nothing wrong with grief. It’s a natural extension of love. It’s a healthy and sane response to loss.”

Instead of viewing grief as a solvable problem, try viewing it as an experience in need of support.

Many people refer to “The Five Stages of Grief” as a linear approach to “getting through” grief. There may be comfort in normalizing the experiences of what it feels like to grieve, but assigning stages and a timeline to grief treat the experience as if everyone’s is the same and as if it’s abnormal if your grief differs. Grief is learning to live life under different circumstances; it will look different for each individual griever and each type of loss. Losing a spouse differs from losing a parent, from losing a child, from losing a friend, etc.

Support is generally offered to those grieving in the immediate days and weeks following a death. Then, eventually, people return to their normal lives. The support slowly fades away. Those grieving go on to continue adjusting to this new normal. They cannot just return to their “regular lives” because those regular lives are no more. Their life and who they
are will never be the same again.
Support is needed for months and even years following a death. Milestones such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be particularly challenging for the griever to face. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the kind of support each griever needs will be different. Rather than provide the support you think someone needs, let the griever lead. Allow the griever to state what would be most helpful as they navigate their new life.


Don’t take things personally. The person grieving may ignore calls/texts, cancel last minute, or leave early. Emotions are high and often fluctuate. What maybe felt good when the plans were made may no longer feel good. Perhaps the griever wants alone time. Maybe the event they’ve committed to ended up being too much once they arrived. That’s okay. There are a number of reasons a grieving person may decide for or against social engagement. Don’t let this be a deterrent from continuing to reach out and let them know they have support when they are ready for it.

Listening is the best thing anyone can offer to someone grieving.

Generally, it’s difficult for people to just listen to problems without trying to fix them. Everyone wants to provide advice, find a solution, and be the fixer of an unfixable problem. Listening without trying to relate, compare, or fix is more helpful than most even realize. Additionally, saying the deceased’s name and sharing memories also goes a long way. People typically avoid saying the name of the person who died or talking about them in fear of upsetting the griever. The griever, however, often want people to talk about their person. They don’t always want to be the one initiating the conversation because then it feels like they’re the only one keeping their memory alive. Speaking about the person who died to the griever isn’t going to suddenly remind them that they’re sad and they lost someone beloved – they’re already always thinking about the person, whether someone brings them up or not. Knowing they aren’t alone in missing or remembering is super helpful.

It’s natural to want to help someone who is hurt and attempt to make their pain go away.

The truth of the matter is this: there is no possible way to make someone’s grief go away. The only real way to do that would be to bring their person back. Rather than provide the unhelpful and cliche phrases, try acknowledging the grief instead. Try telling the person: “This is really hard, and I know there is nothing I can do to make it better, but I’m here, and I love you.” Don’t be afraid to talk about   the deceased. Ask the griever what they need, and if they don’t know, check back another time. 
As the grief continues, new challenges will arise. It’s so important to be there in support as they navigate this new life. It might feel uncomfortable to shift this mindset from fixer to listener, but it’s okay to admit discomfort and stop pushing anyway. Just remember to ask questions, take the griever’s lead, and be present. Remember not to offer solutions, provide compliments about how well they’re taking things, or talk about how bright the future can still be. Let the griever own their grief.

If you’ve lost a partner and could use some support, check out one of our grief groups for spousal loss. You can also fill out an online intake here or give us a call at 412-366-1300. We’re here to help, however we can.