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Helping the bereaved

My father says that when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, there are some people who are right there for you — and others you don’t hear from at all.

Why do some friends disappear?

Being with people who have suffered a loss can be very uncomfortable. And for all of us, sometimes it’s hard to  know what to say or do; sometimes we’re afraid of making the bereaved person feel worse.

Don’t be the person who disappears, and don’t be afraid. You don’t have to make the other person feel better by what you say or do; simply making contact will help them.

These tips can help you support a grieving person.

What you can say

“I am so sorry to hear about your father,†or, “I am so sorry for your loss.â€

Call as soon as possible, and express your love and support. You can then ask, “How are you doing?†This will open the door for your friend to talk, which he or she may be grateful to do.

“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I am here for you.†This is an honest statement and a way to start a conversation.

Tell a story about the deceased, or simply say something such as, “He always smiled when he saw me.†You might think it’s best to avoid mentioning the person because it’s too painful, but bereaved people want to talk about their loved ones.

A story is a good way to find common ground and open the door to conversation. The family will appreciate hearing experiences you have had with their loved one.

Things not to say

 â€œHe is at peace now†or “At least she’s no longer in pain.†Most bereaved people do not want to hear “words of wisdom†such as these. You don’t have to pretend to know all in order to make them feel better.

“What are you going to do now?†or “Will you sell the house?†are not things the bereaved want to think about at this time. People sometimes ask these questions purely out of a lack of anything else to say.

“When my mother passed away ...†Don’t share a sad story about your own losses. A grieving person doesn’t want to hear your drama, while they are dealing with their own. Don’t put them in a position of comforting you.

What you can do

Write a note. For some people e-mail is appropriate, but a handwritten card is still best.

“I am so sorry for your loss. Please accept my deepest sympathies.â€

You could then share a memory (“I will always remember how your sister used to make snow angels ...â€) and finally close with a simple sentiment, such as,  “My thoughts are with you and your family.â€

Send flowers, or make a donation. Some cultures do not welcome flowers at a funeral, so consider writing a check to the deceased’s favorite charity.

Offer to drop by. If your friend isn’t ready to see you, he or she will let you know. Don’t take this personally. He or she will reach out when the time is right.

Bring food. Something nourishing and ready-to-eat and freezable in case they are stocked. People who are grieving still need to eat and they may not feel like going out to shop for food or cook. Plus, they may need extra food for relatives and visitors.

Offer to help. Be specific: “Can I come over and help answer the telephone on Tuesday?†“Can I pick someone up at the airport this week?â€

If you are specific, it shows your real interest in helping.

Call next month. Don’t forget about your friend a month down the road. Friends of bereaved people tend to rally in a crisis, and then go back to their lives. After the action subsides is the time when the bereaved may need to hear from friends. Call them to check, or ask them over for dinner.

Bottom line

Even though it may be uncomfortable for you, make contact in some way early on. Some gesture, even if it may not feel like the perfect one, is far better than no gesture.

Grief can be isolating, which makes it a good opportunity for you to show support in a time of need.

Brooke Loening is a life coach in Sharon who works with individuals, and runs weekly coaching groups on achieving growth in career, health and relationships. For more information and previous columns visit theloeningplan.com. Columns can also be found at tcextra.com.

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