There are many practical ways you can support a colleague experiencing loss. What you do will depend on your relationship with them, and the help you feel comfortable with and are able to offer. Here are some simple ideas.
Offer practical help
A good place to start is with the practicalities, particularly early on.
“We know that in the first few days after a loss, people are needing massive psychological support,” says suicide bereavement and postvention expert Jill Fisher.
“Cooking a casserole, offering to pick their kids up from school or mowing the lawns can make a difference. In doing those practical things, there’s a very strong message that they’re not alone and that you care about them.”
Ask what the person needs
It’s easy to assume what you’re doing is helpful to the grieving person. However, it’s a good idea to check with them first instead of rushing in. “They’re the expert: they know what they need,” says Fisher. “Asking them first what will help will enable them.”
Questions like ‘would you like some help with that?’ or ‘what can I do to support you?’ can help you make a real difference.
Although you may not know the right thing to say, just listening is one of the best things you can do to help. Fisher says: “Even just sitting in silence with somebody can make a difference. People often don’t know what they should say or do, but you can say ‘I don’t know what to say and I’m not sure what I should do but I’m happy to just sit here and listen’.”
While listening to someone can be powerful, it’s not always possible. “If you’re not comfortable doing that, find out who is the best person for them to talk to,” advises Fisher. That could mean suggesting services they may not have thought of, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), online and telephone support services, or other people who can offer a listening ear.
If you say you’ll do something, do it
It’s important to follow through on any promises you make, particularly during the early stages of your colleague’s loss. “Being let down can be another loss to the person,” Fisher said, “and it’s the accumulation of those losses that can take people to at-risk places.”
If you’re not sure you can help in the way you’ve been asked, let them know you can’t do it but will try to find someone who can.
It’s difficult to know what to do when someone is grieving. SuperFriend’s Managing Bereavement, Grief and Loss booklets help to equip workers and employers with the skills and confidence to support themselves and their colleagues experiencing loss, and educate them about the helpful and harmful actions to take during this time.
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