“Life isn’t about surviving the storm. It’s about
learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

Compassion is one ofhumanity’s greatest gifts. During times
of suffering, such as following the death of a loved one, sufferers
rely on the empathy of others to survive their
ordeal. Yet, too often when someone is grieving, we do little more
than offer an “I am sorry for
your loss
†because we are fearful of accidentally
increasing their pain.

Speaking as someone who lost her husband unexpectedly after just
over three years of marriage—and who has counseled many people
who have lost loved ones—I understand both personally and
professionally how it feels to grieve deeply.

All grievers appreciate the compassion offered them, but there
are some expressions of sympathy that are more helpful than
others. Here are five don’ts (and dos) for people wanting to
comfort grievers.

DO talk about the person lost, don’t assume bringing up their
name or stories about them will make the sadness worse.

What hurts me most is when people do not talk about my husband
Jim. There were a lot of people who thought bringing him up in
conversation would hurt me or intensify my sadness. The opposite
was the case.

I would tell them that I love talking about Jim and I always
will because that is how I keep him alive and with me. I enjoy
hearing a funny story about him or a memory of him that someone is
eager to relive.

Many people wanted to be there for me—even to reminisce about
Jim—but since they did not know what was appropriate, they did
nothing. As I suffered through the pain and shock of losing him,
the last thing on my mind was who I had not spoken to recently or
who might be available for a fifteen-minute talk.

Grievers are not in a psychological state of mind to reach out
to anyone, so please reach out to them. We need all the support we
can get.

DO ask questions, just don’t ask open-ended questions.

One of the most common things you hear while
 is â€œDo you need anything?†Or “How can I
help?†These are the most stressful questions you can ask a
sufferer. They’re heartfelt and have the best of intentions
behind them, but for someone who is already overwhelmed with grief,
shock, anxiety, etc., making decisions is very difficult.

For example, food is one of the most stressful things when you
are grieving. Sounds ridiculous, but it is true. Every client I
work with who has lost a loved one says that food elicits the same
stress with them.

One of my clients is blessed with a family member who makes
peanut butter protein balls so that my client will satisfy her
nutritional needs without having to cook herself.

My life was made so much easier by friends and family who
brought me food already prepared. All I needed to do it was put it
in the refrigerator until I wanted it. It was one less thing to
worry about.

So if you are going to ask a griever if they need
anything, make it a simple choice: “Do you want soup or salad?â€
Or give them a multiple-choice question—A, B, or C.  They will
still need to make a choice, but it will not be based on open-ended

DO offer to get together, but don’t assume the person suffering
will want to do the same things they have done in the past.

Meet the sufferer where they are and not where they once

Jim and I loved road trips to football games and live
band performances. Today I can only enjoy those things with people
whom I feel very safe.

Many people just assumed that because I enjoyed it previously
that I would naturally fall back into it again. It doesn’t work
that way. Joy is a difficult emotion after grieving because you
almost feel guilty to be happy. Maybe some people cope with their
grieving that way, but the vast majority I have encountered do

I would much rather spend the day outdoors in nature quietly, or
have friends phone me and say, “How about we come over and watch
a movie? You don’t have to entertain us or get dressed. Stay in
your pajamas.†

DO leave the small things out of conversations, don’t bother the
griever with trivialities.

or not, if a friend or family member is facing a major
problem in life, you want to help them, regardless of whether you
are suffering. Life is about helping one another whenever it is
needed. That is, when it is a legitimate problem.

For example, I no longer have any patience for pettiness. I
do not care about the traffic or the weather, or about the rude
checkout lady at the supermarket.  Jim died two and a half years
ago, and it is still a struggle climbing out of bed and
getting through the day. With that kind of daily battle, I have no
tolerance for those mundane conversations anymore. And I guarantee
you I am not alone.

Do yourself and the griever a favor—if your problem is nothing
more than an irritant, speak to someone else about it.

DO be open and patient with outbursts and breakdowns and don’t

Just because a griever looks better after a few weeks or
months does not mean he or she is no longer suffering. It simply
means they are getting better at improving their appearance. The
suffering on the inside continues, and the daily
struggles remain even though they are unseen by the public.

Little stresses can derail us. For example, due to a rain delay,
the Michigan-Michigan State game was running late, and living in
Colorado, the local channel switched to the Colorado game. You
would have thought I lost my dog. I called my brother
(hysterically) and he took care of the issue in five minutes.

You feel as if you have overcome so many challenges
already that the frustration at not understanding what is going on
around you sends you spiraling. It’s why you can only approach
life one day at a time.  So resist the urge to judge another’s
progress or choices. Sufferers really are doing the
best we can.


In closing, it is so important that you remain who you are.
Don’t try to change how you act or interact in fear of how you
will make the person grieving feel. Just be who you are for them
and remember that normalcy is not a goal let alone a destination.
Their lives will never be the same again, but your consistent
presence and authentic support will make the grieving process just
a little less overwhelming for them.

About Samantha Ruth

Samantha Ruth is a psychologist, transformational speaker,
coach, and #1 international best-selling author. She holds a
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of
Michigan and a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from the
Center for Humanistic Studies.  Sam unexpectedly lost her husband
two and a half years ago when he died from a congenital heart
condition that he was unaware of.  Sam has been published
on PsycheCentral.com and
in Live
Happy Magazine
, and her website is samantharuth.com.

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How to Best Comfort Someone Who’s Grieving
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Tiny Buddha.