Four Ways to Comfort Someone Who Is Grieving

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” Maya Angelou

Yesterday, I learned that tragedy had struck in the life of a dear friend.

There are some tragedies where I feel like I know what to do. Others I don’t. In this specific instance, with this friend, I don’t.

Sometimes, it’s easier with people I’m not as close to. Interestingly, the closer the relationship, the more unsure I am of what to do.

But here’s some of what I’ve learned:

  1. It’s okay to admit we don’t have the silver bullet of consolation. Who does? We can say something like, “I don’t know what to say to you, or how to comfort you, but I am grateful that you shared this with me. I love you and care about you.”
  2. I have seen some people just jump in and take over. A friend of mine, Kindra, whose child was stillborn had another friend, Jess, who didn’t ask what to do, she just did. She babysat the other children, she arranged meals, she nurtured the grieving mother. That is not something I know how to do, but it’s a wonderful gift if you have it. Such individuals, often women, are angels of mercy, deep compassion, and kindness.
  3. Another friend, Heather, has been able to sit with those who are dying, and to love them, and to care for and comfort other family members. Again, this is not within my purview, but there are people who have this gift.
  4. Not always immediately, but often those who grieve need you to talk about and bear witness to their loss. Not to “fix” it; that can’t be done. But to hold space for them and their emotions. This is one thing I can do, and on several occasions have done it well. I can listen. And there have been a few times in my life when I needed others to listen to me, and listen, and listen again to help me recover from trauma and heal.

Grief can come in waves. So being a good listener is not a one-time thing, but for all time.

What do you do when others are grieving, or experiencing loss? Like so many experiences in life, there are different stages of grief and different things that need to happen at different times. And there are people around us who are better at some kinds of support than others.

How can we do more of what we can do well? And maybe get five percent better at what we don’t do as well? And how can we assemble a team of people to help support a person in need, to help them feel loved and cared for, so that they can heal when a major, unexpected, unwanted disruption occurs? 

Our acts of kindness, unique to us, can counter a sometimes unkind world.

This week’s podcast is with David Burkus. He’s just published a book titled Best Team Ever: The Surprising Science of High-Performing Teams, which I think is the best title ever. We had a wide-ranging discussion, and you will want to have a listen.

But here’s a nugget from the book that I’ll share around team building: as a team, ask and answer these questions:

  1. What’s a reasonable amount of time to wait for an email response before resending?
  2. How should we keep each other updated on our progress (huddles, emails, project management software)?
  3. How should we ask each other for help?
  4. What’s the best way to make decisions (voting, consensus, yelling loudly until the last person loses her voice)?

As always, thanks for being here.

My best,

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