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Most of us experience grief at some point in our lives. It could be the result of the loss of a friend or family member. Or a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a pet.

You might feel empty or numb, as if in shock. Your body might tremble and feel weak. Amid feelings of sadness and sorrow, you might have trouble eating and sleeping. These are all part of the various stages of grief. Above all, it’s a profound sense of loss and knowing what’s missing will never return.

Given that grief is a universal experience, it might seem unnecessary to have a day dedicated to the awareness of the emotion. But Wednesday is National Grief Awareness Day, which organizers say is a time to reflect on the pain suffered by the grieving and ways they can be supported.

I believe the importance of the day, which falls on Aug. 30 each year, can’t be understated. Grief encompasses a variety of emotions, and people react to it in different ways. If there’s a time people need help, it’s in their time of grief. Yet many struggle to help, not knowing what to say – or saying the wrong thing – or how to act.

grief awareness group therapy

Helping someone who is grieving

Grief can be one of the most difficult emotions to deal with, both privately and publicly, says Rebecca Soffer, an author and co-founder of Modern Loss, an online community of people who help each other grieve. Rebecca, who also hosts our Light After Loss events on Facebook, says the best way to deal with grief is to acknowledge it.

Grieving people are fully aware that their presence might be weird for many people around them, and many are nervous about being the ‘buzz kill’ in any setting, especially a festive one. It’s OK to acknowledge to them out loud that the topic is awkward for you: Just naming the elephant in the room can be incredibly powerful. – Rebecca Soffer.

The first step of reaching out is often the most difficult. Fear of saying the wrong thing often holds us back.

I consulted with Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist and member of our Connectivity Council for advice. She recommends a technique called “narrating the experience,” wherein we take our internal experience surrounding the uncertainty and put it into words.

Here’s an example in a text message:

Hi, I just wanted to check in and let you know that I’m thinking of you. I wasn’t sure if I should reach out because I know it’s such a personal time, but I still wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and if you want to talk, I’m here for you.

This approach communicates to the bereaved that you’re aware that people process grief in different ways and you’re not trying to shape their process. It also makes room for the fact that they may or may not want to talk about it.

And if they do? “Consider just hitting the dial button on the phone,” Dr. Chloe says. Reflective listening – the act of simply repeating back what someone says – is a great approach to take here. It shows the person that you’re listening which actually stimulates them to share more.

More ideas for support

Our Connectivity Council provided additional ideas for extending a helping hand to someone who is grieving:

grief awareness support tips

Find the right support is important

Navigating loss is never easy, and everyone will have a different reaction to it. Some people will find therapy and support groups helpful, while others will prefer grieving with just a few close friends. Working through grief could also involve taking up new hobbies, like art or writing.

It’s within our power to make a difference when someone is grieving and let them know – in big ways or small – that they are not alone in their moment of despair.

All the best,

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Jim McCann is the founder, CEO, and chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. as well as a business leader, author, and philanthropist with a passion for helping people deliver smiles. Devoted to helping others, he also founded Smile Farms, a 501(c)3 organization that provides meaningful jobs in agricultural settings to young adults and adults with developmental disabilities.

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