- We need more than just emotional and practical support when we're coping with loss.
- We may need knowledge or informational support and support through people's physical presence.
- One person can't do everything; cast your net widely.
In my work, clients find it helpful when I break down different forms of support; it helps them identify and articulate the specific types of help they need. I’ve added comments from our own Copingwithloss_ community here too, to give you greater context. These are their responses from a recent post asking them what helped. (The individuals in the group all gave permission for me to share their comments.)
1. Emotional support: a shoulder to cry on, a good listener, someone you can share your story with again and again. “My sweet friend rang me every evening to just chat and ask how my day had been. She lived in Perth I was in Canberra. She said, “answer if you feel like it or just let the call go to message bank.” It was my life saver; evenings were so lonely after Matt had gone.”
2. Physical support: feeling you need to be physically close to someone, or requiring their physical presence at certain times/events/meetings. “After my oldest friend lost her husband, I used to sometimes go and sleep in her bed with her — we’d done it as children, why not as adults?”
3. Practical support: managing flowers, mowing lawns, cooking, driving, responding to email, organising thank you cards, planning anniversary days. “Be very practical — bring heat and eat meals, help with laundry/cleaning. Not expecting endless accolades for helping out. Solve problems, don't create them.”
4. Memory support: sharing tales of your loved ones, saying their name, and keeping those precious memories alive. “10 years on, I really appreciate when people talk about her/bring her up in conversation and remember her birthday/anniversary — little things to keep her memory alive.”
5. Informational support: someone to guide you in areas you’re not so familiar with — legal/financial advice, property, medical, childcare/school routines. “I was so grateful to my friend’s husband who helped me put the house on the market and dealt with the realtors for me.”
6. Ongoing support: we also desperately need people who’ll go the distance with us, who understand that grief might diminish over time, but it lives with us too; and who are not afraid to acknowledge our pain and loss months, even years later. “I appreciated people who understood that this wasn’t over, who kept messaging and asking how I was long after everyone else had got back to ‘normal’ — in fact one person still does message me more than three years on. It’s so appreciated.”
Who might provide these forms of support for you?
Take a look at each category, jotting a name or two down.
Don't expect one person to deliver in each of the six categories. Go on, I dare you to cast your net more widely. When I speak to large audiences about navigating grief, one of the questions I always get asked is, what can we do to help? People are often desperate to help, but not sure how.
Believe me, you can help them here. Don't expect them to be mind readers, tell them what you need!