Learning how to comfort someone who's grieving inconsolably takes time, patience, and compassion. It may seem as if there's nothing you can say to make things better for them, especially if they're grieving deeply and are upset and crying. When they're feeling this way, they aren't in the right state of mind to receive or accept your advice or any attempts of consoling them.
They may be in a deep state of grief with the pain of losing someone they love weighing heavily on their heart. Although it may be clear that you want to make them feel better, their grief may keep them from thinking and reacting rationally. They might lash out at you, or become even more upset at your attempt to have them stop crying.
There are a lot of ways to comfort someone, but one of the first and perhaps most important things you can do for them is to love and support them by accepting their grief and letting them cry it out.
1. Offer Your Presence
When your loved one is grieving and is deep in the throes of despair, it's not your job to fix things and make it all better. Your responsibility is not to stop their tears from flowing. A good friend will try to know when to be there as a shoulder to lean on when things get rough, and when saying something is necessary to offer support.
You don't have to say anything, and sometimes not saying anything at all is the best thing you can do. Being there and offering your silent support allows your loved one to work through their emotions as they grapple with their loss.
Putting yourself into the shoes of your loved one may help you see things through their eyes.
You may not be able to fully understand their loss because maybe you've never experienced it at their level, but you may be able to empathize with them based on having gone through a similar loss. You don't need to know exactly what they're feeling to know that they're in pain and grieving.
When sharing your experience, consider that in their eyes nothing can compare to what they're going through right now. It may not be the appropriate time to give the details of what you suffered through. Just allow them to have this moment to mourn the death of their loved one without comparing.
3. Say Words of Compassion
Not knowing how to console someone is one of the main reasons why people ignore their friends and loved ones who are dealing with loss.
It's not that they don't want to acknowledge the death, it's that they genuinely don't know what to say. This fear of saying the wrong thing can cause some people to distance themselves until things return "to normal," and may ruin their relationships along the way.
When a person is grieving they may not feel like reaching out to you to see why you haven't called to offer your condolences. They assume you've heard the news, and now it's up to you to follow through with your expression of condolences. Saying something as simple as “sorry for your loss” goes a long way in letting your loved one know that you care and support them.
4. Ask Questions
When your loved one is crying uncontrollably, it hurts to stand by and watch without knowing what to say or do. One of the last things they want to hear is for you to tell them to stop crying, or that everything is going to be okay. Try instead, gently asking questions as you allow them to cry and get it all out.
You may want to start by telling them that you know that they are in pain and that it's okay to cry. Then try asking them if it's okay for you to get some tissue for them, or if it's okay that you both go outside for some fresh air. When you present these as options, they may feel more in control and more receptive to your attempts to console them.
5. Offer Emotional Comfort
When supporting your loved one through their loss, realize that the grief process takes time. They will likely go through all the stages of grief before they start to make peace with the loss they've suffered. Being a constant and reliable presence in their life during this time will give them comfort.
Simple ways in which you can support them is by calling to check up on them, inviting them out for coffee, or letting them know that you are there for them. All of these acts of love and support will let them know that you care and are there for them as they go through their grief journey.
When the time comes, consider putting together a small celebration to honor the life of their loved one at their death anniversary. This lets them know that you still remember their loved one even as time goes on.
6. Let Them Talk
Opening up a dialogue to get the conversation going will help your loved one process their grief more so than if they keep their emotions bottled up. Encouraging them to tell you how they feel may take some time and patience, but once you gain their trust and confidence, give them time to share what they are feeling.
Sometimes things resolve on their own when allowed the opportunity to talk about them out loud. You don't need to offer profound words of healing and comfort. Just listen as they tell you what they're going through.
7. Offer to Cook and Clean
When someone is grieving, it's difficult to focus on the details of day-to-day life. They may forget to follow basic hygiene routines and may even forget to eat. Regardless of how much reminding and prodding you do to get them to do both, they may not feel emotionally up to it.
If you can stop by to check on them regularly, consider cooking a meal for them. You can sit and visit while they eat. You may need to encourage them to do so, but at least they'll be getting one nutritious meal per day. When the meal is over, try casually tidying up the rest of the house as you clean up after cooking.
8. Offer to Call the Family
When you're hit with the devastating news that someone you love has died, your emotions may go into a tailspin.
Everyone reacts differently to this type of news, and not everyone will lose control, but you'll likely not know what to do next. When this happens to someone you know and love, understand that they may not be able to think clearly at the moment. And, they may not consider calling others to let them know what's happened.
Offer to take over this responsibility while they take a moment to process the news. You may want to start going through their contact list on their mobile phone and start making phone calls on their behalf. Be prepared to offer a short introduction of who you are and why you're calling.
9. Offer to Set Up Funeral Arrangements
If your loved one doesn't have an extended family or other support systems in place to help them navigate death, offer to help in any way you are comfortable doing so. Some of the things they may need help with are identifying the body, deciding on end-of-life issues, and making final arrangements.
This may be more responsibility than you are willing to undertake, so consider carefully before making this commitment.
10. Offer Financial Help
One of the hardest things for someone to accept is financial help when they need it. It's usually a matter of pride. Most people don't want to inconvenience their loved ones by asking for money — even when they may be in a financial bind.
During a time like this, one of the best things you can do is discreetly handing them an envelope of cash. An alternative is for you to directly pay any outstanding balances at the funeral home.
These gestures of financial help are almost always welcome. By not making it a big deal, your loved one will more readily accept the help, and you'll help relieve some of the stress they may be under. You can decide later if you expect them to repay you, or if this was a gift or contribution in honor of their loved one.
11. Allow Their Tears to Flow
Giving the space and time to cry to someone who's grieving lets them process their emotions as they make sense of their loss. This is a normal part of the grieving process and is a healthy way of dispensing with all of the pent-up emotions they may have been suppressing.
Some people think that they have to put on a brave face and be stoic around others as they come to pay their last respects. They never allow themselves to feel the human emotions associated with death, pain, and suffering.
As time passes, these emotions they've been holding back on may surface in ways they may not know how to handle. Their feelings of loss and despair may turn into anger towards themselves and others. Crying helps soothe the soul and alleviates some of the pressure of suppressed emotions.
Consoling Someone Who is Crying
Sometimes it's best to let someone cry it all out and let the tears flow freely. There is a certain relief that comes over you when you are allowed to express your feelings without being self-conscious of crying in front of others or what you may look like.
There’s such a thing as having an "ugly cry" - of letting yourself express emotion regardless of what you look like while doing it. Just let your loved one go all out and have that ugly cry when needed, but spare them the selfie in the middle of it all.