Empathy is having the ability to recognize and share the feelings of another person. It’s what allows us as humans to have compassion for those who are suffering. Because we have empathy, we can recognize when a person is grieving and express our sympathy appropriately. However, some situations are easier to be empathetic about than others. Sometimes it seems like our life experiences are so far removed from those of the person grieving, that it’s hard to conger up these feelings of empathy. In other words, we can’t even imagine what they are going through because we’ve never had an experience even remotely close to their’s. Other times, we know exactly what our loved one is going through, but fail to relate to them appropriately. For those situations, we have to try even harder to show empathy and be sympathetic toward someone who is grieving.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

It’s very common for a grief-stricken person to act differently than they normally would. There are so many emotions, most of them negative, that the person may act out or say hurtful things. It’s not always pleasant for the people around them, and that’s why it’s so important to practice showing empathy and compassion. In order to truly feel empathy for someone else, you must put things into perspective and imagine yourself in their shoes. Think about if you had experienced that loss yourself. It’s painful to think about, but that pain is a reality for the person who is grieving. If you find yourself on the receiving end of those raw emotions and hurtful words, reach deep down and conger up the empathy to forgive quickly and extend a helping hand.

Show, Don’t Tell

Try to show the grieving person that you know how they feel rather than saying, “I know how you feel.” Although you’re trying to relate to your loved one and comfort them by letting them know that they are not alone in their loss, it diminishes their grief and takes the focus off of them. It gives them the sense that you are looking for someone to console you, when they are really the person that needs to be consoled at this time. Instead, try to think about what you would want someone to do for you if you were in their shoes. If you truly do know how they feel because you’ve been there before, then think back to that time to remember what things people did to help you through. Maybe you received a thoughtful gift or keepsake that brightened your day, or perhaps someone helped you take care of all of the household chores that had piled up during your time of mourning. Do something that shows that you understand their pain and are here to help them through.

Whenever you’re questioning whether or not you’re helping your loved one through their grief, ask yourself, “am I being empathetic toward my loved one?”. Are you treating them the way you’d want to be treated during a time of grief? The answer will let you know what you need to do.