How to Support a Grieving Family
Death gives meaning to our existence. It reminds us just how precious life is, and just how instantly everything can change.
The death of a family member—particularly a sudden or unexpected death—is a major emotional crisis from which we experience grief. Grief is the feeling of deep sorrow associated with losing a loved one. Although traditionally focused on as the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, psychological, and social dimensions, too.
Grief triggers neurological changes in the brain, affecting areas that control emotional regulation, multi-tasking, memory, organization, and learning. This disruption in hormones can result in different symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, loss of appetite, increased inflammation, and insomnia. For people who have lost a spouse, this is often referred to as Widow Brain. For others—children, siblings, friends, and other family members—it is simply called “Grief Brain.”
When it comes to supporting a family who is grieving, it’s important to remember that everyone’s grief is unique. It can manifest in myriad ways from crying to perhaps not crying at all, to wanting to talk about the departed person to not wanting to say a word.
But, there are ways you can help. In this blog post, we share five ways to support a grieving family.
5 Ways to Support a Grieving Family
- Connect with them. Reach out to the person shortly after their loss. This contact can be in the form of a phone call, text message, sympathy card, or visit. Unfortunately, oftentimes when we don’t know what to say to comfort someone, we say nothing, which can result in that person feeling lonely and isolated. Even if you don’t know what to say, reach out to them to show your support and let them know that you’re here for them.
- Let them talk. If they want to, that is. Never pressure someone, but if they’re ready and willing to talk about their loss, your job is to be a good listener. Acknowledge how hard their situation is. Don’t judge them, and never encourage them to look on the bright side. This is called toxic positivity and can be extremely damaging, as rather than being able to share genuine human emotions and gain unconditional support, people find their feelings dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated.
- Offer practical help. Ask if there is anything you can do for them and make suggestions. If they are open to it, you could help with chores around the house. Mow the lawn. Run errands. Make dinner. Sometimes these simple tasks can take a load off someone’s grieving mind. However, be mindful that they may not want you to support them in this way and their requests should be respected. Sarah Glaze, who lost her husband, Officer Dan Glaze, in the line of duty, spoke about her husband’s Chief Deputy taking her kids to school at least once a week: “He picks them up in his squad car and takes them to school, because that’s what Dan would have done if he was alive.”
- Encourage additional support. While grief heeds no specific timeline, it usually improves within a few months. Grief that persists is called complicated grief, and can occur after someone has died in a sudden, violent, or unexpected way. Counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals can help treat complicated grief.
- Share their story. Sharing stories about the departed person helps their memory live on and can bring comfort to the family. Help them remember the good times with their loved one and let them know that person was important to you as well. Online and in-person support groups can also be a good resource for sharing experiences.
Band of Blue Helps Families Move Forward
Band of Blue is a non-profit organization that helps families of fallen law enforcement officers move forward after tragedy. By sharing stories and creating transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for their surviving family members, we honor the service and sacrifice of our blue line heroes.
After a traumatic event, family is more important than ever. Our team is dedicated to ensuring that even after the death of their loved one, people know that they are still part of the law enforcement family. Visit our website at bandofblue.org and read our stories of fallen officers to learn more about how we support families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.
“You don’t realize how much of a family law enforcement really is until you go through something like this,” said Sarah Glaze. “Band of Blue did a really good job of understanding that everyone handles grief differently. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
If you know of a family who has lost a loved one in the line of duty within the past eighteen months, please reach out to us. We want to help as many families as we can move forward after tragedy.