“Meet them where they’re at” is a common (and sound) suggestion for how to support a grieving friend or family member. Apologies if you don’t like sentences that end in prepositions, it’s just what we’re doing today. It’s a suggestion I often want to offer but don’t because I’m not sure what it actually means to other people. In this context, where we’re not just talking about physically meeting someone but also emotionally meeting them, it’s abstract.
So the other day, I decided to ask our communities on Instagram and Facebook what this phrase means to them in the context of their grief. How has it played out for them, or how do they wish it would have been? We got many great responses, which I want to share with you here.
First, however, it’s important to note that there can be many different interpretations when talking about something abstract. And we’ve found time and again that the idea of “good grief support” is subjective. What helps or comforts one person, another may find off-putting and undesirable.
So if you’re supporting someone else, take what you read here with a grain of salt and, above all else, consider what you know about your loved one and your relationship with them. And if you’re grieving yourself, please feel free to share your interpretation of the phrase in the comment section below.
What does it mean to meet someone where they’re at in grief?
- Let go of expectations.
- Just allow them to be who they are and where they are, and to feel what they feel.
- If the grieving person seems lost – be lost with them – only they can truly find their path.
- Don’t make the grieving person come to you.
- Don’t expect them want to raise their spirits or rush through their grief.
- Don’t minimize their thoughts or feelings.
- Don’t minimize how they feel about the magnitude of the loss.
- Know that what a person thinks and feels in grief isn’t always rational – and that’s okay.
- Allow the person’s grief to exist without trying to change it.
- Just listen.
- Really actually listen.
- Don’t feel the need to come up with something comforting, helpful, or inspiring to say.
- Don’t search for silver linings.
- Be comfortable with silence when there isn’t anything to say.
- Try not to compare the person’s grief or loss experience to yours or anyone else’s.
- Try not to imagine how you would think, feel, or act if you were them. In reality, you have no idea how you would think, feel, or act – even if you’ve experienced loss yourself.
- Follow the grieving person’s cues.
- Allow the person’s grief to exist without trying to change it.
- Don’t try and fix things.
- Don’t feel the need to offer solutions.
- Don’t try and force the person into new feelings or perspectives.
- Just show up and be present.
- Be willing to allow the pain to exist.
- Be willing to sit with the pain.
- Put your own awkwardness or discomfort aside.
- Recognize if your own discomfort with a person’s thought, emotion, or experience is guiding the support you’re providing.
- Don’t judge or shame emotion – whatever it may be.
- Be there for someone the way they need you to be, even if it’s not the way you want to be.
- Validate that it’s okay to feel the way the person is feeling.
- Respect the person’s pace.
- Check-in often – especially on difficult days.
- Understand that the person may experience grief flare-ups months and years later.
- Be as supportive on day 365 or 500 as you were on day 1.
- Don’t force the person to talk about “it” if they don’t want to.
- Don’t discourage a person who wants to talk about their experiences from doing so.
- Don’t try and rush the person away from what they’re thinking or feeling.
- Match the person’s mood and tone.
- Don’t put the grieving person in the position of having to support you or make you more comfortable.
- Be mindful how much you talk or complain about day-to-day stressors and minutia when your grieving friend clearly isn’t in the headspace to hear about it.
- That said, don’t assume they don’t want to know about you or your life. Just be tactful, and if you’re not sure if they want to hear about something – ask.
- Don’t expect a response when reaching out to offer help and don’t be offended if you don’t get one.
- Don’t make the grieving person feel guilty for opting out of things and focussing their energy on their grief.
- Don’t project your own beliefs or expectations onto the grieving person.
- Don’t try and make meaning of the loss for the person. This is something they have to find themselves.
- Don’t expect them to be the same person they were before their loss.
- People change – allow them to change – and embrace who they are becoming.
- Have patience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need.
- Don’t be frustrated if the person doesn’t know what they need.
- Let them find ways to cope that work for them.
- If you’re worried a person’s coping is harmful or self-destructive, don’t shame them. Understand they’re struggling and find ways to offer help and support instead.
- Offer to do the hard things with them.
- Ask the person how you can support them on difficult days or when facing potentially painful expereinces.
- But give them space when they need it.
- Accept if the person wants to grieve and cope privately.
- Know that even the smallest things – like sending a text checking-in – can be helpful.
- Accept if they aren’t ready to enter certain physical spaces.
- Don’t force them into social situations they aren’t ready for.
- Let them change their mind about doing things or going places without guilt.
- Don’t expect them to explain themselves or provide a rationale.
- Be sensitive that events like celebrations and milestones may be bittersweet for the grieving person.
- Try not to comment on how well a person is doing, often what you see on the outside isn’t even the half of what they’re feeling. Instead, try asking them how they’re doing.
- Don’t walk away.
- Don’t abandon the grieving person.
Share what you think it means to “meet them where they’re at” in the comment section below.
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss goes on sale September 27, 2022, but you can preorder at the following retailers: