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 â€” and others you donâ€™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 itâ€™s hard to know what to say or do; sometimes weâ€™re afraid of making the bereaved person feel worse.
Donâ€™t be the person who disappears, and donâ€™t be afraid. You donâ€™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
â€œI am so sorry to hear about your father,â€ or, â€œI am so sorry for your loss.â€
Call as soon as possible, and express your love and support. You can then ask, â€œHow are you doing?â€ This will open the door for your friend to talk, which he or she may be grateful to do.
â€œI donâ€™t know what to say, but I want you to know I am here for you.â€ This is an honest statement and a way to start a conversation.
Tell a story about the deceased, or simply say something such as, â€œHe always smiled when he saw me.â€ You might think itâ€™s best to avoid mentioning the person because itâ€™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 nowâ€ or â€œAt least sheâ€™s no longer in pain.â€ Most bereaved people do not want to hear â€œwords of wisdomâ€ such as these. You donâ€™t have to pretend to know all in order to make them feel better.
â€œWhat are you going to do now?â€ or â€œWill you sell the house?â€ 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.
â€œWhen my mother passed away ...â€ Donâ€™t share a sad story about your own losses. A grieving person doesnâ€™t want to hear your drama, while they are dealing with their own. Donâ€™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.
â€œI am so sorry for your loss. Please accept my deepest sympathies.â€
You could then share a memory (â€œI will always remember how your sister used to make snow angels ...â€) and finally close with a simple sentiment, such as, â€œMy 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 deceasedâ€™s favorite charity.
Offer to drop by. If your friend isnâ€™t ready to see you, he or she will let you know. Donâ€™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: â€œCan I come over and help answer the telephone on Tuesday?â€ â€œCan I pick someone up at the airport this week?â€
If you are specific, it shows your real interest in helping.
Call next month. Donâ€™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.
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.