This past year generated untold layers of grief throughout our society. Today, we focus on one pervasive grief trigger - relationship loss - and how you can effectively support your clients through it.
The most obvious relationship loss is death – the permanent, total loss of the physical relationship with that person. Yet relationship loss is more pervasive than death because it doesn’t have to be permanent or total. Significant events like divorce or moving away are also relationship losses. When we can’t visit family and friends, it triggers tangible levels of grief. Even the communal value of gathering with strangers for sports or concerts is lost. Countless people face relationship estrangement as friends and family members stop speaking to one another due to our country’s polarization. Even the death of a beloved pet is a devastating relationship loss.
In all these ways and more, your clients are grieving. Here’s how to support them:
1. Offer a bit of education. Name the reality of relationship loss and the various ways it can trigger grief.
2. Ask the client which of these is affecting them. Keep asking until they can’t think of anything else.
3. Read the list back to them and ask which one(s) are most challenging and painful.
4. Start with that one and ask open-ended questions that invite them to tell you more. Although the questions largely depend on the situation being discussed, here are a few examples:
a. Did you expect this to happen?
b. What do you wish people knew about what it’s like for you?
c. What is hardest about it? What has surprised you?
d. Who or what is helpful as you cope, and who or what has not been helpful at all?
5. Based on their answers, think of supportive things you can do. Again, your actions greatly depend on the situation but here are a few possibilities:
a. Send a card thanking the client for sharing their story with you and expressing your support.
b. Offer a relaxing gift - comfort food, a massage, a movie, their favorite drink, or anything else they would enjoy.
c. Send articles, stories, or videos about that type of loss.
d. For an on-going situation, call at various intervals to check in on what’s happening now.
These strategies create stronger bonds with your clients. You can also use them with your family, co-workers, and friends. Grief, stress, and anxiety are off the charts, and everyone you know could use a supportive, listening ear. Can that be you?