The pain of losing a loved one can be difficult and last a lifetime. The key is getting through it together.
Chariman and Founder, 1-800-Flowers.com
Grief is a universal experience. About 3.4 million people die in the United States each year, and each person leaves behind an average of five grieving loved ones. For something so fundamental to the human experience, it is seldom discussed openly, and many of us are not sure how to deal with grief or how to support others through a period of loss.
People have trusted 1-800-Flowers.com to help them express sympathy for nearly 50 years. As the company’s chairman and founder, Jim McCann has had ample opportunity to study the way we deal with grief. Throughout those years, Jim has learned that “grief is individualized, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.”
When helping our friends and loved ones through a time of grief, we often don’t know what to say or how to help, and blame ourselves for these shortcomings. But you shouldn’t worry about getting it “right.”
“It’s the intention that matters,” McCann said. “Whether you say the wrong thing or don’t know what to say, letting someone know you’re there allows them to feel supported.”
It’s also okay to turn to outside resources to help guide you. 1-800-Flowers.com has many helpful articles on expressing sympathy that offer wisdom and advice on dealing with all aspects of grief. In addition, specially trained Sympathy Advisors are available by phone or the Internet to guide customers through selecting and sending appropriate expressions of sympathy.
The biggest mistake people make when dealing with grief is ignoring their own emotional needs. We often fail to prioritize our own mental and emotional health, pouring our energy into supporting others without having any clear idea how to do that, which can be exhausting and frustrating. But the key to dealing with grief in a healthy, spiritually nourishing way is to practice self-compassion.
Anyone experiencing grief is prone to forget about their own needs, but it’s especially common when we’re supporting someone else who has suffered a loss or who is dealing with a loved one in hospice care.
The key to self-compassion is setting boundaries. “By nature, those caring for others tend to be receptive to others’ needs over their own,” McCann said. “Setting clear boundaries and being open about your needs are just as important during this critical time.”
Building a support system
As important as the right words can be, coming together to grieve is just as critical. Grief can be isolating. That’s one reason we have developed so many rituals around death, and why so many of those rituals involve coming together as a family and a community to share in our grief.
“The rituals around loss, no matter what one believes, involve getting together,” McCann explained. “We gather to share our own memories or hear how our loved one influenced others, or to connect with the experience.”
By gathering, we create a support system of family and friends. It’s important to allow yourself to be supported by others even when you’re trying to “be there” for someone else.
Grieving together also offers the opportunity for the healing power of touch. Stress-relieving massages, reassuring hugs, and even simply holding someone’s hand can help release pain and better manage anxiety.
1-800-Flowers.com understands the importance of support systems. That’s why the company hosts Connection Communities, a place where people can share their grief experiences, seek help, and offer support to others going through the grieving process.
It’s also important to note that there’s no easy fix.
“Grief is a lifelong process,” McCann said. “Although there are stages you may experience, we never complete the grieving process; it becomes a part of our life. A stage can be revisited with a new life event, or grief can be triggered when supporting someone else who is in the process.”