Since my last post, I have been asked what can one say or do for someone who is grieving. I thought I could rattle something off, but I discovered it was not that easy. I had to go back in my mind and remember what had helped and what had not.
First, I’m going to get a little help from my friend, Chandrama Anderson, a licensed MFT who specializes in counseling couples and people who are grieving the loss of a child. She wrote a wonderful little brochure titled The Language of Grieving: A Brief Guide to Comforting a Grieving Friend or Loved One, downloadable by clicking on the link.
These are some of her suggestions about condolence etiquette that resonate strongly with me; my comments are in italics:
- Acknowledge the Loss – saying nothing or pretending the death didn’t happen hurts the person. For me, I then feel invisible and alone.
- Show you care – a bereaved person needs to have the death acknowledged, to have empathy, care and support, and most importantly, to hear words that allow them to feel whatever they are feeling at the moment. For me, this is one the most important things one can do.
- Allow the grieving person to take the lead in conversations – it’s helpful for the one who is grieving to talk with you as they normally would, and even to be able to laugh! At first, I felt guilty if I laughed, and then I realized it was so helpful to be able to find humor and even momentary joy.
- Allow the bereaved to tell, and even re-tell the story of the death of their loved one. It helps as they work through their grief and mourning. When I do this, it seems to release some misery from my soul.
- Speak of the loved one who has died. It helps the bereaved feel less isolated and know he or she has not been forgotten. Asking permission can make this discussion less awkward for the condoler, “Is it OK if I talk about Mike once in awhile?” I would love to be asked this as it seems to help ease the pain of loss to remember him and speak it out loud.
- Avoid religious platitudes as they may deny the bereaved permission to feel what they feel. I would feel quite uncomfortable if someone said something like “It was God’s will” or “He’s in a better place now.”
- The journey through grieving has no roadmap or timetable. Remembering and talking about the loved one’s important dates such as birthdays, holidays, etc. can bring solace and comfort to the bereaved. This is so very helpful as I kept feeling a pressure of time to get over it already. An inner voice was chastising me to stop grieving and start living like you used to. Now I understand life will never be the same and I can take all the time I need.
If you download the PDF file, you will find an incredibly helpful couple of lists: Words That DO Comfort and Words That DO NOT Comfort. So, rather than list them all here (there are lots of them), download her brochure.
For me personally, I have found words like “I don’t know what to say, but I know this must be very difficult for you”. If I am crying (which is a distinct possibility) saying “It’s natural to cry at a time like this” helps me accept my feelings.
Sometimes I do want to talk about it so asking me “Do you feel like talking for awhile?” is such a relief. I can answer yes, or no as the need arises.
Chandrama has been a tremendous friend and help to me these past four months. Although she’s not my “Therapist” her loving kindness and experience with her own grief has made her presence a blessing in my life.
© 2012 – 2013, Taru Fisher. All rights reserved.