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Two people both wearing bracelets holding hands. Their faces cannot be seen

We’re all supporting someone who is grieving. Whether it’s a close family member, housemate, colleague, or the friend of a friend – we all know someone who has been bereaved, or is struggling with loss.

However, we can feel at times like we are not close enough to the bereaved person to support them. Perhaps you barely know them, or they are the friend of a friend and it would feel awkward to talk to them? This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and maybe you’ve been thinking about how you could support others who might be struggling.

Who could you support?

Perhaps the only person you could think of, who you know is grieving, is someone who is a friend of a friend. Or a distant relative. And now you’re panicking, thinking – do I have to support them? I barely know them! Well the answer is – no, you don’t have to support them. You’re not the most appropriate person. But you could support someone who is supporting them. Confused yet? I’ve drawn a diagram to explain my point…

There are concentric circles around the person who has been bereaved – the above diagram is merely an example of what this could look like. It will be different for every person, but the reality is, there are always people close to you when you are grieving who you rely on for support. For me, it was my immediate family. I spent two months at home after mum died and so we spent a lot of time together. I did see friends, other family members, and we had plenty of visitors, but it was my close family who I turned to for support in the first few months.

For someone else, it could be their housemates, their partner, their best friends, or even their work colleagues. That first circle of people are the ones who really need to support their bereaved friend as much as they can. Talking with them about their loss, checking in with them regularly, perhaps even helping them practically.

Being there for someone can be hard

Imagine this – your colleague at work tells you that their friend has recently been bereaved. You want to help – so you start thinking about the ways you know how to support a bereaved person. But you don’t know this person, so actually you can’t help at all. Except – you can.

When we are supporting someone who is grieving, it’s challenging. I know that when I have been at my worst, that has been really hard for the people around me. But they love and care for me, so that’s fine! But they need support too. If you’re in one of the inner concentric circles, you need to protect your mental health too and make sure that you are supported.

Supporting the supporters

And that’s where the outer concentric circles come in – the distant friends, the work colleagues, the football teammate. They can’t help the bereaved person – but they can help you. We all have a duty of care and we can all support someone, so I invite you to consider where you might be on the concentric circle diagram, and then look at the next circle in. This is the person you can support. You can check in with them, make sure they are coping, ask if there is anything you can do that will ease their burdens.

Talking about loss, together

I’m a firm believer that the conversation about mental health will only change when we all talk, together. Whether the bereaved person you know is a close family member or someone you simply know about from a friend of a friend, you have a role to play in that story, by supporting them and the people around them. As we reflect on the past week – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – perhaps you could take a moment to consider: who is it that I could support, today?

If you have a story to share, email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org and start your conversation.