Learning to support loved ones through loss

The last few years have unfortunately brought the topic of grief to the foreground of our minds. Grief has an insidious nature: even years after experiencing the loss of someone dear to us, the trauma of that moment can still linger on.

Watching our loved ones experience loss can be painful in itself. Knowing how to support them and talk to them about grief in a respectful manner can feel uneasy at times. Fortunately, we don’t have to figure it out on our own; there are mental health practitioners out there to help us navigate our way through grief. We spoke with licensed psychologist, Dr. Erlanger ‘Earl’ Turner, Ph.D.  about how to recognize suffering in others and ways we can offer our support.


A Talk About Grief with Dr. Earl

How do we Recognize Expressions of Grief in Others?

There are several stages to grief but not everyone experiences each stage. Some people may express denial, anger, or even extreme sadness. For people that experience severe symptoms of grief, they may also exhibit signs of depression such as crying, lack of appetite, or even issues with sleeping.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a time limit on how long grief will last. It often comes and goes; some days will be good while other days may be more of a struggle just to engage in daily activities. For some people, they experience grief for several months and others may grieve for up to a year before they fully accept the loss. Grieving may also be more difficult around holidays or anniversaries of the person’s death.

What Role Does Guilt Play in the Grieving Process?

Guilt can be one part of the grieving process. For some people, they may blame themselves for not being able to take action to reduce the chances of the person’s death. Others may simply blame themselves for the person’s death. While others may feel bad that they didn’t have time to resolve relationships with lost loved ones.

How do we Support a Grieving Person?

Everyone experiences grief differently, so it is important to first ask the person who is experiencing the loss, how they would like to be supported. Having a support system is really important to healing after a loss.

Many people may be experiencing a lot of emotions following a loss, so it is important to allow them the time they need to express their feelings. Avoid telling people they should not be sad. Try to support them by just being present or helping them with celebrating the life of their loved one. Be sure to also help them practice self-care which may include maintaining a healthy diet. They may not have the physical energy to do some task so a helping hand is always a good idea.

Dr Earlanger Turner’s book  “Mental Health among African Americans:Innovations in Research and Practice” Available here.