Episode 3 Show Notes | The Good Grief Podcast

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20+ Ways to Be More Empathetic & Supportive

20+ Ways to Be More Empathetic & Supportive | The Good Grief Podcast

Episode Overview:
In this episode, we’re going to talk about ways you can be more empathetic and more supportive to those around you who may be grieving at this time.

Empathy is a skill we learn and practice. It’s something we continuously learn. It’s a muscle that we have to work regularly once we gain the ability. Continuous practice will allow us to grow in ways we never thought we could. It allows us to become the friend we’ve needed in the past, the friend people will need in the future and the friend people reach out to today.

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Products From Good Grief That Will Help:

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Transcription of This Week’s Episode:

Here’s a fact: we all grieve.
Another fact: we all grieve differently.
Annnnnd one more fact: we all need empathy and support.

In this episode, we’re going to talk about ways you can be more empathetic and more supportive to those around you who may be grieving at this time.

Note (and this is a really important note): grief, empathy and support are NOT a one-size-fits-all type of thing. I repeat, grief, empathy and support are NOT a one-size-fits-all type of thing. WHICH MEANS YOU may have to stop, think and adjust the things you say and do when it comes to the situations that you may be presented with.

To start, I’m going to break down a few definitions and then we’ll get into some of my favorite ways to be more empathetic and supportive to those in my own circle. And of course I have a few stories to share to help illustrate how these situations could have been handled better or what went well!

But first, the definitions:
Grief defined is: deep sorrow
Empathy defined is: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
Supportive defined is: providing encouragement or emotional help. And another definition for supportive is: to hold something or someone up.

I love those definitions. And I love how grief, empathy and being supportive are all intertwined. You can’t really be truly empathetic without having experienced some form of grief. And you can’t really be truly supportive without being empathetic. They go hand-in-hand. And they’re all part of the human experience.

My friend, Shelby, from Return Journey Yoga, taught me that grief is part of the HUMAN experience. Infertility, which was a big cause of my own personal grief, was part of the SADIE HUMAN EXPERIENCE and while it may not be part of YOUR personal human experience, YOU, as a human, can understand a portion of the grief I experienced simply because grief is part of the human experience.

For example, I have never lost a parent to divorce or death and while I cannot fully comprehend the pain of either of those experiences, I CAN comprehend and understand portions of what that must feel like for friends of mine who have been through those human experiences.

It’s in the intersection of accepting what we can’t fully comprehend and imagining the portions we can comprehend that we find empathy.

If you remember from the definition of empathy, it is the ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND and share the feelings of another.

Something about abilities— they are SKILLS. They’re skills that we possess. And skills are always learned. So that means we can LEARN how to be more empathetic. Empathy is a skill. It’s not something that some people were just born with that those who weren’t born with it are just out of luck. It’s a learned skill. Which means we can ALL be empathetic. We just have to practice. 

A lot of the time we think or say, “I can’t imagine what that must be like.” — it’s not that we CAN’T imagine it. Because we can. It’s that we choose not to. In those moments, I want to challenge you to ACTUALLY imagine what that person is experiencing. FEEL that pain and sorrow. And then, sit there in their grief with them.

I remember a time right before one of my best friends’ mom passed away. I stopped by her house to visit for a minute and we just sat in the entryway of the house and cried. We didn’t say anything, we just cried. And then a little while later, after chatting with my friend, we walked into the kitchen and saw her little sister, the three of us joked around for a minute and then without saying anything, we all started crying again. Nothing I could say would change their situation. Nothing I could do would change their situation. But there, in the entryway of the house and in the kitchen, we sat together in grief over what they were experiencing.

And I vividly remember saying, “I can’t imagine what this must be like.” But the truth is, I COULD imagine it. And I did But I was afraid of imagining it because it made it too real. I forced myself to imagine it anyway. And by imagining what it would be like, that allowed me to grieve and mourn with them in a deeper way. It forced me to think about how I would want to be treated and how I hope people would show up for me if I was experiencing that particular human experience.

And honestly, what I hoped people would do for me was simply be there. I hoped people would cry with me. I hoped people would check in on me-- even months later or years later. I hoped people would remember my loved ones and talk with me about them after they had passed.

And that’s what empathy is. Showing up in the ways that you hope people will show up for you.

So let’s talk about that for a minute. Let’s talk about a few ways that you can simply SHOW UP for people in their times of grief. I have a basic list, but if you remember from the beginning of the episode, these aren’t just “fix it” solutions. They’re going to require some effort on your part. So, you may want to grab a paper and pencil to write these down or head to the show notes after this episode to grab the list again because I’m going to just fire them off.

  1. Say something 
  2. Send something
  3. Listen with no intention of responding-- JUST LISTEN
  4. Cry with them
  5. Check in regularly or periodically
  6. Seek understanding
  7. Love them
  8. Sit in the discomfort with them
  9. Validate them and their feelings
  10. Just do SOMETHING.

Sometimes, when we feel uncomfortable or like someone’s grief is too much, we think to ourselves, “I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing,” and then we get analysis paralysis and we simply don’t do or say anything. 

But here’s the reality of grief: NOTHING and I mean NOTHING you say or do can take away a person’s grief.

So what if we shifted our thinking from, “I need to say the right thing to take away their pain.” TO, “I’m going to support this person through their grief journey-- whatever that journey looks like for them.”

Friends, that shift can be life changing. THAT SHIFT can be life saving. THAT SHIFT CAN and WILL make a difference.

But in order for that shift in mindset to work, we have to remember one VERY IMPORTANT detail: Healing IS NOT linear. There are stages of grief, yes, but they are NOT checkboxes. Allow people to grieve. And then allow people to grieve again and again and again. (If you’re the one grieving, allow yourself to grieve. And then allow yourself to grieve again and again and again.)

You MAY have times where you think, “it’s been X amount of years… they should be over this by now…” (or if you’re the one grieving, you may think, “it’s been X amount of years… I shouldn’t be sad about this anymore…”) But healing is not linear and IT’S OKAY to continue grieving beyond the amount of time you once thought was “appropriate” for a grief timeline.

 

If you’re in the position of being a supportive friend, I want to share a few actionable ways to support someone in their grief journey. These things will start off pretty simple and get increasingly more involved as we go, but nonetheless, they are all helpful!

So first things first,

  • Send a text message-- let them know you’re thinking of them!
  • Write a note
  • Send a small package-- Make A Day is one of my favorites! Make a Day is basically a gift box to let others know that they love them!
  • Drop off a treat
  • Give them DoorDash or food place gift cards 
  • Drop off paper goods so they don’t have to do dishes
  • Bring freezer meals (in THROW AWAY containers-- I have a story about this that I’ll tell in a minute)
  • Get their groceries delivered
  • Hire a cleaning service or spend the day cleaning for them
  • Take them out to lunch or simply get them out of the house for a few hours
  • Babysit their kids so they can do something for themselves

As a reminder, there may be things that YOU CAN DO that are not on this list that I just gave you. Take a look around and be a helping hand where you see a need. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie, Robots (yes, the animated movie about robots from like 2005). It’s actually their motto as robots: “See a need, fill a need.” Friends, it’s as simple as that. If you see a need, don’t hesitate to step in and fill that need.

A little PRO-TIP on “See a need, fill a need” is Make it EASY for people to accept your support and empathy. 

Here’s the story that I promised you a minute ago. Shortly after my first baby was born, my church reached out to offer to bring us dinner for a few nights. At first I declined because she was in the NICU and so we were simply just eating out A LOT. So me and the person I talked to decided together that once she was home from the NICU, we would be happy to have them bring some dinner by. Well, about a week later, she was discharged from the NICU and they promptly reached back out to set up nights to bring dinner. I’ll be honest, in that week’s time, I had completely forgotten that they had offered and at that point was so tired that I didn’t really want the hassle of coordinating schedules with complete strangers (we were pretty new to the congregation), but I also didn’t want to force my husband to make dinner, so I set up some times and then again, promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward a few days later, we were sitting at my in-law’s house after we had just eaten dinner and I began receiving MULTIPLE text messages and phone calls from an unknown number. It turned out to be the lady from church that was supposed to be dropping dinner off. I suddenly remembered that dinner was coming at that moment. We weren’t home and we probably wouldn’t be home for a few hours. So I thanked her for her efforts and told her to leave the food on the porch and we would pick it up when we got home. She became OUTRAGED and started telling me her fears of wild animals stealing the food off our porch or breaking the glassware. I quickly apologized for my forgetfulness and promised that we would be home soon to make sure the food got taken in.

When we got home, there was a pile of food sitting on our porch in multiple glass containers and tupperwares with a note that said, “Return the containers when you have time.” I looked at the food and note and had instant regret for agreeing to let the church bring us dinner.

You see, at that time, I was hanging on by a mere thread. I had MAJOR anxiety about putting my baby down let alone talking with complete strangers. I could barely function as a human being-- ie: take showers and get myself out of bed each day. The thought of eating that food or putting it in our own containers so that we could wash the dishes and then turn around and find the stranger that had brought us dinner to give her dishes back made me want to curl up in a corner and cry. And honestly, thinking back on this story, I still get a little anxious every time.

Accepting the IDEA of people bringing us dinner was easy. But the EXECUTION of people bringing us dinner was absolutely horrendous. I ended up feeling like more of a burden to this lady who was doing us a service than like it was an actual service. As I look back on that experience, there are a few things that I would do differently (and honestly will do differently this next time around). First, I’d honestly say no to the church bringing food. We had great support from family and were covered with meals. I would have offered other ways they could have helped us. If they were INSISTENT on bringing meals, I would have requested things ONLY be brought in disposable containers or that they drop off a gift card that we could use at our own convenience.

I didn’t understand at the time, or even have the capabilities to understand that my moods and capabilities would vary so greatly from day to day. And honestly, I think that’s how a LOT of people who are going through hard times or life changing events feel-- every day is SO unpredictable. You don’t know where you’re going to be mentally (or even physically) from one moment to the next, so having gift cards or freezer meals that we could use at our own convenience would have been much more helpful than a hot meal brought in containers that would need to be washed and returned.

So the moral of that story: MAKE IT EASY for people to accept the help you are offering. It’ll go a lot farther and your efforts will not go unnoticed. Your consideration of THEIR TIME, and THEIR CAPABILITIES means SO much.

For those who are grieving or going through a hard time, allow people to BE supportive and empathetic. I think a lot of the time, we think no one cares or no one wants to help us, when in reality, people care and people are TRYING. One thing that I’ve started doing is making a to-do list of EVERYTHING that I need to do or that needs to be done. So when someone asks how they can help or says, “let me know if you need anything!” I go to my list and give them a job that needs to be done. It’s incredible what happens when people are told exactly how they can help. Spoiler alert: they help in ways that are actually helpful!

For those of you who are worried you’ll say the wrong thing, no worries. I’ve got you covered with my list of things you can ALWAYS say to someone who is grieving. That list is:

  • You are loved.
  • You are needed.
  • You have purpose.
  • You’re doing a good job.
  • I love you.
  • Your efforts are enough.
  • And again, I love you.

Because here’s the thing: people in the depths of grief need to be told they are loved. They need to be told they are needed. They need to be told they have purpose. They need to be told that their efforts to simply human are good and enough. So often, we fear saying the wrong thing, that we don’t say anything at all. But I can promise you that by saying SOMETHING, you make a difference. Don’t be afraid to offer your love and support. It’s more needed than you might think.

As you talk with your grieving friend, another way to be more empathetic and supportive is by thinking about what you say, BEFORE you say it. And when I say this, I don’t mean in the like the “you plan your conversation in the shower” type of way, but in the way of taking a few moments to respond after somebody says something to you. And like, really think about it for a second. Often we feel like we have to respond immediately. So we say the first thing that comes to mind or think of our own experiences and project our fears and experiences onto the person we’re talking to. How many times has “just you wait…” or “if you think THIS is hard, wait until…” come out of your mouth? That, my friend, is projecting your own experiences onto someone else. Projecting your fears and experiences onto others is not helpful. It’s just not. Try seeking understanding. If you’ve been in a similar situation, try remembering what it was like to be IN that situation. Ask clarifying questions. Listen with love— not to respond. I promise as you practice listening with love, empathetic responses will follow.

Something really cool about being a supportive and empathetic friend is that supportive friends and empathetic friends have very similar qualities. So as you practice being supportive, you’ll grow in your abilities to be more empathetic and vice versa. 

Think of it this way, supportive friends:

  • listen with love
  • Mourn with one another
  • Lift each other up
  • Stand up for each other

Empathetic friends do the same things. 

  • listen with love
  • Mourn with one another— not because their grief is the exact same, but simply because they understand that grief is grief is grief is grief. You don’t have to *actually* lose someone to understand and know that THAT experience is difficult.
  • Lift each other up
  • Stand up for each other — and just a little caveat — you don’t have to agree with everything that a person does or believes to stand up for them. 

And as we talked about before, empathy is a skill we learn and practice. It’s something we continuously learn. It’s a muscle that we have to work regularly once we gain the ability. Continuous practice will allow us to grow in ways we never thought we could. It allows us to become the friend we’ve needed in the past, the friend people will need in the future and the friend people reach out to today.

That’s all I have for today. I hope that you were able to gather a few takeaways from today’s episode and that you’ll make an effort to be more empathetic and more supportive as your friends experience their grief journeys. I hope that you’ll allow others to be empathetic and supportive to you in your own grief journey. And as always, I hope that as you work on being more empathetic and supportive and more accepting of empathy and support that you’ll be able to transform your grief into a force for good in your life.

20+ Ways to Be More Empathetic & Supportive | The Good Grief Podcast


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