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Be the Bridge for Someone Who Needs One

What do I mean by "You Can Be The Bridge for Someone Who Needs One?" Bridges are often used as metaphors for helping people "cross over" a difficult experience or move through grief, often described with phrases like a "flood of emotions" or "a raging river of tears."

When people are going through a difficult time, many feel alone and isolated, even when they are with others. Some are more open about what is going on than others, but it ultimately takes courage to speak up and ask for support when someone needs it or accept it when it is offered. So, if this situation presents itself, it is really important to show up as a bridge instead of a dam.

When someone is going through something difficult or is in an active state of grief, it tends to make many of the other people they encounter uncomfortable. Most of them at least try to respond with good intentions. While some people try to avoid it altogether, some try to help by changing the topic or attempting to cheer the person up. Some people try to fix the situation for the grieving person using things that helped them get through something they experienced. I could go on and on about what's good, what's different, and what's bad - don’t even get me started on those who start engaging in “toxic positivity.” However...


If you really want to help someone who is going through a difficult time, it is important to recognize what the person is going through is about them and what they need as a unique person who is trusting you with their feelings and pain.  First and foremost, it is important to meet them where they are emotionally with kindness and empathy (feeling with them) instead of sympathy (feeling sorry for them). Here are some additional ways you can be the bridge they need:


  1. Listen and be present: Allow the grieving person to express their feelings without judgment. Validate how they are feeling and offer reassurance through your presence with them. Be willing to sit in silence if that is all they want or if they don't feel like talking.


  1. Avoid minimizing their loss: Refrain from providing simplistic solutions, expressing platitudes, or giving them unsolicited advice. Instead, express your care and willingness to support them without trying to fix the situation for them.


  1. Respect their way of grieving: Be open to their unique way of coping with grief and avoid judging or disputing their choices or responses as they process their loss. If possible and appropriate, offer a human touch, such as holding their hand or giving a hug, but always ask for permission first. If you touch someone who is grieving without their permission, you could make things worse or end up anchoring their grief instead of helping them move through it.


  1. Offer hope and a positive outlook: Recognize that grief is a gradual process that differs for everyone. It is ok to offer hope for the future in an authentic and supportive way. Be careful not to come off as insincere or shallow by repeating overused phrases such as “this too will pass” or “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Instead, assure them that you are there to support them through the grieving process.


  1. Offer practical help if possible: Providing practical support such as doing housework, preparing meals, answering the phone, or taking over some of their regular duties can be a meaningful way to support someone who needs this type of help and assistance. Also, be mindful of their preferences and respect their need for space and limits.


Grieving is essential to healing, and everyone handles it differently. If someone reaches out to you or you reach out to them, and they place their trust in you and share what is going on, ask them how you can support them. Then, let them take the lead regarding their needs. Make them feel like they are emotionally safe with you. Please don't use phrases like "I totally understand what you are going through." Why not? Because you don't.


No one can possibly understand what anyone else is going through at any time because every person is the sum of everything they've experienced in their unique lives, cultures, and beliefs. What helped you get through something is not necessarily what will help them. They may need your kindness, understanding, and guidance along their grief journey, but ultimately, it is their journey to take. There are many pathways to their healing destination; be their compass, not a paper road map. 


You likely know someone right now who could use a bridge to help them cross over their river of grief and sadness. By being a compassionate listener, offering practical help, and respecting a person's way of grieving, you can provide valuable emotional support to someone who is going through a difficult time and make an important contribution to their ability to move through the grief to healing. It starts with a choice. What will you choose today?

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