Blog Post: A Coach Approach to Grief

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A few months ago, my mother’s brother died. I told her what we are all taught to say in times of grief: “I’m sorry for your loss.” My mother is one of the kindest and most gracious people I’ve ever known, but her response took me off guard: “I hate when people say that.” I was trying to help, but it wasn’t helpful. What would be better?

Coaching is not the right response to helping someone grieve, but coaching does give us some tools that are helpful to those who grieve. If you break coaching down, it is defined by eight competencies (according to the ICF). Competencies are knowledge plus skill plus intent. The combination of these is what creates coaching. However, these competencies can be combined with other competencies to create something else.

For grieving, there are a few competencies that stand out as helpful.

Listens Actively

When my dad died, it was the biggest loss I had ever experienced. Some of my friends called, but I didn’t answer. I’ve never considered this before but maybe the reason I didn’t answer is because not all my friends are great listeners. I needed someone who could listen well. I didn’t want a platitude from anyone. The things I needed to say were deep and important, and I didn’t want to say it to anyone who wasn’t going to be able to hear it well.

Listening is one of the great healing tools. The way to heal the deepest wounds is to say them to someone who will listen. It is healing to hear someone repeat what we’ve said at the deepest levels. It is healing when we feel understood, validated, or forgiven.

It’s less important to know what to say and more important to know how to hear.

Maintains Presence

At my dad’s funeral visitation, a buddy of mine sat through the whole thing, finding a seat in my line of vision. He didn’t say much, but he understood. His dad had died several years before, and it took a toll on him. His presence gave me strength.

Presence is hard to describe. We aren’t alone when someone is present. A healthy presence connects with vulnerability, patience, eye contact, and even love. Job’s friends were at their best when they sat with him quietly. It was when they opened their mouths to impart wisdom that their presence turned to torture.

We need to be able to silence ourselves and put ourselves at peace so we can be present with those who grieve.

Evokes Awareness

As I’ve sat with many grieving families as their pastor, I like to ask questions. What do you remember most? What would the deceased say if she were here? What was something that made him laugh out loud? What would she want you to carry on in her absence? These questions create a fullness to the experience. It isn’t all loss, but that awareness needs to come from within rather than from without.

Awareness is created in many ways. A quote may come to mind that was stirred from your deep listening. A song. A memory of your own. An observation. Awareness dissipates the fog, and the way becomes clear. The grieving become aware of what they already know. Life goes on. We were blessed for many years. Not everything makes sense.

Rather than having something to say that will never bring any comfort, we should find something to share that evokes helpful awareness.

Facilitates Client Growth

I’ve been to lots of funerals. Each time, a few people stop and offer some comfort, but most people slow down, pay respects at the coffin, and then file quietly and quickly out. As people filed out of my father’s funeral, each and every person stopped and hugged my mother. That day I learned that a quiet servant of a man impacts his community in ways that others cannot.

Client growth is about learning, planning, and acting. A funeral doesn’t have to become a wound. It can become a catalyst. We would never force the grieving to grow, but we don’t want to dismiss the opportunity either. Coaches are good at drawing out learning and designing action and making commitment.

Most people find grieving awkward. Coaches are trained to make the process less awkward.


The grieving are rarely our clients, although they sometimes are, but having someone present who is skilled in helping people process their grief is a wonderful gift to someone whose heart has been broken.

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