At our recent monthly Yoga for Grief workshop, we created memorial candles to light in remembrance of those who are no longer with us. It was a powerful evening with many tears, and the wave of beautiful intensity felt that night has lingered with me.


I've been thinking a lot about how hard it can be to sit with someone in grief. We never know what to say, and often worry about saying the wrong thing. Here are five useful tools from my experience in working with the bereaved:

1. You can't fix this, nor is it your responsibility to do so. My experience in working with the bereaved is that while they often want the pain to end, they also recognize that feeling every bit of agony is part of the process. It can be hard to hold space for someone who is hurting. No amount of telling them it will be okay will make it so. Your only responsibility is to say that with you it's "okay to not be okay." Have tissues on hand, offer a hug, or a warm cup of tea.

2. Say the name of the deceased. We often worry that if we say the name of someone who has died, it will be too painful. Trust me, that name is already at the forefront of a grieving person's mind. All the time. As in 24/7. The reality is saying the name of the deceased can be very comforting as it acknowledges that they are not forgotten.

3. Help the bereaved come up with what I call a "Safety Action Plan." Having to put on a happy face in the presence of others during the holidays can be excruciating. Help your loved one come up with the following:

A. Code words or gestures to say to each other to exit the party or get rescued from the dumb cocktail conversation.

B. Have a Self-Care-Go-To Plan. Come up with self-care tools that can be done immediately before or after a big holiday event. This might be a hot bath, nap, restorative yoga, massage, or swaddling yourself in fifteen blankets, eating all the carbs, and watching reruns of Gilmore Girls until the second you have to leave the house. Whatever it is, write it down and check in that your friend is using it.

C. Plan conversations. Have answers ready. How will your friend respond to "I'm so sorry for your loss," or "I'm glad he isn't suffering anymore," or worse, "It was part of God's plan?" How will they respond to the person who doesn't know about the loss and charges into the conversation as if nothing ever happened? Practice the answers together.

D. Plan outfits. Often having to get fancied up is a nightmare when you really just want to wear your sweatpants and the old soft band t-shirt with the holes in it. Help your friend come up with a few holiday outfits so they don't have to think about it. Write it down for them (our short-term memory is poor during grief).

4. Have emergency numbers. This is so hard, but have emergency numbers that your friend can call if they are in crisis. It can be so hard to do this, but the phrase you can use is, "I am worried about you. I love you. I wouldn't be a good friend if I didn't give these numbers to you. I want you to know you are never alone, I am here for you, but in case you need more support than I can give you here are these." You may save a life.

5. Provide love. Love can look like lots of different things:

  • Casseroles (or not, enough with the casseroles already! Everyone gives casseroles - try bagged salad and chicken instead)

  • Offering to help put up the holiday decorations

  • Folding laundry.

  • Going with your friend to a yoga class, or better yet lead them through one at home

  • Buying a massage, reiki treatment, float session

  • Bring over breakfast.

  • Taking their kids for an afternoon outing.

  • Do a craft project to memorialize the deceased - memorial candle, building an altar or shrine, decorating a planter or stocking.

Finally, if you are reading this and are grieving, know that you are not alone during this challenging time of year. I hope these tools help. And if you are someone reading this to better support someone in grief, thank you. Just simply thank you for being that person.