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A National Awareness Day Worth Observing

Today, August 30th is National Grief Awareness Day. Grievers may see the recognition of this day as extraneous. There is no need for a reminder that grief is omnipresent, this is their reality! You may be wondering, what is this calendar event for then? It is a day to bring grief to the forefront of public consciousness and welcome an open dialogue about grief, loss, and bereavement.

Our culture has propensity for stigmatizing and invalidating grievers. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act has no federal mandated policy on bereavement leave. This means that an employer has zero obligation to provide paid leave to employees after the death of a loved one. There is a pervasive expectation that we are supposed to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and return to “normal functioning” within an “appropriate” period. Contrary to popular messaging, loss is not something to get over or move on from. It is extremely isolating and difficult to navigate loss in a world that does not hold compassionate space or recognition to grievers.

So, what can we do about this? While a call to arms for advocacy and national policy change is extremely appealing, impactful efforts can be made immediately by supporting those around you that are grieving.

I want to acknowledge that it can feel difficult supporting someone who is grieving. Confronting someone else’s loss may activate your own fears around life’s fragility or mortality. The need to say or do the perfect thing may feel so heavy that it is easier not to say or do anything at all. Although the discomfort is understandable, it is not a justification to avoid showing up.

Here are a few tips to help guide you on how to show up!

1. Avoid using platitudes such as “they’re in a better place,” “everything happens for a reason,” or any statement that begins with “at least.” While these phrases are often well-intentioned, they are unhelpful and can lead a griever to feel minimized and shamed.

2. Talk about the deceased. Often, we stop mentioning the names of those who have died to avoid potentially upsetting the bereaved. Hearing their names and other’s memories of a loved one can be a tremendous source of comfort.

3. The quintessential, “I am here if you need me,” is lovely, however, the reality is, it is an imposition on the griever to ask for help. Don’t wait for that phone call. Instead, drop off a meal, offer to come over and sit in silence and hold space for their grief, or invite them out to coffee.

4. Continue to check in regardless of the amount of time that has passed. After the initial loss, it is typical for support to dwindle and people to go back to their lives. However, for a griever, life as they know it has shattered and there is no normal to return to. It may feel just a tiny less daunting putting the pieces together when there is someone in their corner with a glue gun.

How will you observe National Grief Awareness Day?


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