Secondary grief can occur with people who are not directly related to the ill or deceased person, but have a connection to them through their spouse or significant other. Both parties have emotional needs and an escalated need for support during these times, yet often we become separated rather than unified. The temptation to withdraw or isolate oneself is strong, which is when we need to be intentional about communicating they are not alone.
Stress can make us act out of character and forget about others' needs, and stress during these times is completely understandable and natural. It is our awareness of stress and gentle encouragement from those we trust that can help us keep moving forward. Some tips for helping a spouse, loved one or significant other during grief are:
1. Remember that they cannot help, fix or "get over" what they are feeling at times and that they may not always be able to vocalize what they are feeling.
2. Ask the other person "what do you need from me in this moment? How can I help". Do not assume that you know what to do.
3. Grief is a strong emotion and can come out as anger at times, it is important to remind yourself that they are struggling and try not to internalize projected frustrations.
4. Do not forget about yourself. You need people and things in life as well and may be equally struggling. Take care of your needs with people whom you feel close to, with activities that make you feel rested and express those needs to your spouse or loved one. feeling and try to describe your own emotions.
5. Remain in communication with one another. Be sure to ask each other how the other is and understand although they may never understand exactly what you are feeling, their feelings are just as important and valid.
6. Grief is not a competition, nor is it something to be judged or put on a timer.
7. You cannot fix another persons' emotions, you are only in control of your own.
8. Be intentional about spending quality time together and discuss what that time will look like, spend it talking about the relationship or about fun memories.
9. Maintain appropriate boundaries by expressing your needs and gently reminding your spouse/loved one of those boundaries if a breach occurs. Ex: You have discussed with the grieving person a desire to talk about how your day has gone and have asked them to not come straight home and isolate in their room. Remind them of the need you have expressed.
10. Allow each other to feel whatever you are feeling and empathize to your fullest capabilities.
These are ways that I believe marriages, relationships and even families can continue to live together, love each other and experience grief at the same time.