Grief is one of the hardest emotional processes that a human being can go through. At the same time, amid life circumstances such as loss of loved ones or trauma, almost every person will go through a period of grief at one point in their life.
When someone is going through a hard time, it’s important to reach out, show consideration and let the person know you’re by their side. For many people, it’s hard to approach grieving people as it’s complicated to find emphatic words that could make the person feel better.
This is why we have prepared this advice on how to write an open letter to those who are grieving.
It’s OK Not to Feel OK
For many people who are facing problems, an additional burden they put on themselves is to feel better as quickly as possible. They dismiss their emotions and thoughts and want to stop feeling the way they do.
To provide support and understanding, let those in grief know that it’s absolutely normal and acceptable to feel unwell. Also, there is not a set-in-stone formula on how a person should behave or act when grieving. Some may isolate and spend a lot of time crying, others may turn to work for distraction and overwork themselves, while some may come up with their own coping techniques.
The only thing to remember is that any type of behaviour (which is not self-destructive) is acceptable when a person is grieving.
Share Your Experiences
The cornerstone of human connection is empathy. Without knowing what the person is going through, it’s sometimes challenging to understand their point of view and be understanding and supportive.
If you have gone through grieving yourself, tell others about your experiences. Sharing stories, thoughts, and emotions is incredibly powerful – it lets people know they are not alone in what they are going through and that their thoughts and actions are completely human.
Explain the Five Stages of Grief in a Personal Way
There is a well-known structure provided by psychologists and mental health experts which explains the components of the grief process - the so-called five stages of grief. They are:
However, what this simplified scheme fails to take into account is that grief is different for every person. Some stages can be amplified for some, while some may skip a stage altogether.
For example, depression for some people means not being able to get out of bed and crying your eyes out for days on end. For others, it means feeling hopeless and lethargic while still going through the motions of work and other commitments. For some, it’s deeply rooted and subconscious and they’re not even aware they are depressed. This is just an example of a spectrum of emotions and coping mechanisms a person can have.
It’s also not a linear process. “Getting out” of one stage doesn’t mean that a person is “done with it”. When it comes to emotions, there is never a one-size-fits-all explanation of how and why a person feels in the way that they do.
If you have gone through grief yourself, try to put the five stages in perspective with your personal experience.
Promote Patience and Self-Love
Coming to the so-called final stage of grief, acceptance, is all about patience. Healing takes a lot of time. Finishing the process of grief cannot be hurried or deliberately focused on. The important thing is to learn how to live with grief instead of waiting for your life to continue “as normal” afterwards.
For a grieving person, things will never be “back to normal”. In other words, their entire psychological structure has changed and there is no way of going back to being the same person before the traumatic event occurred.
However, this is not as grim as it sounds. Hard circumstances and tough life events make us stronger, so a grieving person will always come to the other end more powerful than ever.
To help persons in grief, remind them of how important it is to practice self-love. During grieving, it’s very easy to forget about yourself and your needs. This can hinder healing and growth.
Save the Advice
For people who want to help, the first line of effort is usually giving out advice. However, this is often the last thing that a grieving person needs.
Before you consider giving advice to a person in grief, think about the following questions:
- What is the purpose of this advice?
- Will this advice in any way help the person?
- Am I taking the person’s feelings into consideration?
- Do I know what this person is going through?
- Can this advice make the person feel worse?
When you answer these questions, you will most likely see that the advice that you wanted to give is not really that constructive.
Helping people in grief through communication is not about advice-giving, it’s about sharing experiences, listening, understanding, supporting and not being judgemental. Remember, a person in grief is not likely any person who’s going through a troublesome life situation or period. They are much more vulnerable and at loss of control. That’s why advice-giving is mostly unnecessary in this case.
Wanting to help other people through words of compassion and understanding is very noble and emphatic. Remember, your open letter might help someone who is going through grief immensely.
Just remember some of the most basic concepts related to the process of grief. It’s anything but a simple process, so don’t try to simplify and trivialize it. Let everyone know that whatever they are going through is normal and acceptable.
What people in grief are basically looking for from other people is compassion and understanding. If you can share your own experience with grief (without sounding like you “triumphed over” grief and made it to the other side unlike people who are going through it at the moment), it can help the person heal.