As a family member, friend, neighbor, church member, or someone who has helped professionally there are many ways in which you can be supportive of someone who has had a death of a loved one.
To those who are grieving their world as they know it has crumbled and they can be affected emotionally, spiritually, physically and socially. The grief can cause them to be hesitant about reaching out for help and assistance. Sometimes they won’t know how to do this or they will feel that no one understands or wants to take time out of their lives to help them.
On the other hand, society in general doesn’t know how to treat someone who is grieving. You may be unfamiliar with the grief process and are most likely uncomfortable about what to say or what to do to help your family, co-worker, neighbor, or friend.
To recognize the needs of a grieving person it helps to understand the uniqueness in each one’s grief. There are immense differences in the grief process that depend on how a person would grieve: was the death sudden, traumatic, or a long illness. Other unique tendencies would include: the gender of the person who has died, other stresses the griever might have had at the time of death and their own cultural background and spiritual beliefs. Sometimes when the death has been a long terminal illness there is also an inclination to think that the caregiver is totally prepared for the death and is fine and ready to get on with their lives. There might be some relief that the person has died and not suffering any more, but that does not mean they are ready for the death to occur.
Guidelines to help you decide how to reach out and help
Acknowledge the death as soon as you learn about it. Just because that person has a lot of family members don’t assume they will have everything they need. A visit or telephone call to let them know you are there to assist them will go a long way.
Listen, listen and listen: the grieving person wants and needs to tell their story over and over again. This is one of the ways for them to begin to accept the reality of the death. Even if you have heard it before listen, again they need to tell it over and over. Talk about memories that you have of their loved one; mention their name, grievers love to hear their loved one’s name and any stories you may have. This also lets them know that you really are listening and want to help as much as you can.
Encourage tears: Crying is a natural and important part of the grieving pro- cess. Let them know that it’s OK for them to cry. They can become easily embar- rassed when the tears come, especially in public. Reach out and give them a hug, but don’t hand them the box of tissues that is a signal that you want them to stop crying. When you ask “how are you doing?” look them straight in the eye, let them know that you really are concerned and want to help in any way you can. Don’t tell them to “call me if you need anything”, persons who are bereaved have a difficult time reaching out. You will need to ask them, “what can I do for you”.
Be aware of things you can offer to help with:
- They may need transportation for errands
- Offer to clean the house to get ready for the relatives coming from out of town or let them know you have a spare room if they need it.
- Volunteer to grocery shop
- Take care of children
- House sit
- Take messages and or keep record of flowers given and food brought in
Communication: Things to say and NOT to say:
• Do not say “I know how you feel” (no one knows how another feels)
• Do not say “It’s a blessing; he/she is out of pain” (grievers miss their loved one, common sense does not help).
- Do not say, “Time will heal” (time alone does not heal).
- Do not say, “She or he had a good life…” (this does not comfort, they still want them back).
- Do not say, “It will take two or three months to get over your grief.” (there is no timetable for grief, do not put limits on their grief process).
- Do not say, “Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be upset” (this is an avoidance message, telling them not to do the work of mourning).
If you are talking to a bereaved parent:
- Do not say, “you still have other children or you are still young you can have another child” (this minimizes their grief, as if the baby or child doesn’t matter).
If you are talking to a young widow or widower:
- Do not say, “don’t worry, you are young, you can always remarry (they can’t replace the relationship they had).
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve; it’s their grief to own and grieve in their own way, be respectful and be a “caring presence” when they need you.