Tuesday, 01 June 2010 00:00
When a family member, friend, or work colleague has lost a loved one and you don’t know what to say or do to help them, it is a hard situation for everyone.
You may be scared of saying or doing the ‘wrong thing’. The following tips on what might help come from people who have lost family and friends.
Things that may help
- Allow the grieving person to talk and express their loss as much as they are able.
- Offer to be a friend – ‘Call me at any time if you need to talk’.
- Tell the family how sorry you are about the death and about the pain they must be feeling - ‘I am so sorry for your loss’.
- Encourage them to be patient with themselves and not to expect too much of themselves.
- Let your genuine concern and caring show. Tell them how much you care - ‘I can’t begin to imagine how you feel’.
- Recognise that grieving has no time limit and varies from individual to individual. Continue to support them beyond the acute period.
- Talk about your memories of the deceased and the special qualities that made the person endearing and remember to say the person’s name.
- Acknowledge the death through visits, phone calls, sympathy cards, donations, and flowers.
- Remember important days such as birthdays, the death anniversary, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and any other significant day, which may be difficult for the bereaved.
- Keep calling, always leave a message and ring back. Appreciate that your bereaved relative, friend or work colleague may not always be able to return phone calls right away.
- Expect your relationship with the bereaved to change and grow.
- Share your own good news with the bereaved. They still want to hear it.
Things that might not help
- Not mentioning their loss or the person’s name out of fear of reminding them of their pain (they haven’t forgotten it).
- Changing the subject when they mention the person who has died.
- Telling them what they should feel or do.
- Avoiding them because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already painful experience).
- Letting your friends, family or co-workers grieve alone. There is a tremendous sense of isolation and abandonment during the grief process. You can help by caring, by being there, and by being the best friend or work colleague you can.
- Making comments which in any way suggest that their loss was their fault.
- Saying ‘you should be coping or feeling better by now’ or anything else which may seem judgmental about their progress in grieving.
- Saying that you know how they feel (unless you’ve experienced their loss yourself, you probably don’t know how they feel).
- Telling them not to cry. It hurts us to see them cry and makes us sad. But, by telling them not to cry, we are trying to take their grief away.
- Trying to find something positive (e.g. a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the loss.
- Allowing your own fears to prevent you from offering support to the bereaved.
- Thinking that good news (family wedding, pregnancy, job promotion, etc.) cancels out grief.
- Expecting grieving people to be strong and complimenting them if they seem to be strong.
- Assuming that when a grieving person is laughing, they are over anything or grieving any less.
- Assuming their behaviour should follow a certain pattern.
- Providing advice unless it is specifically sought.
- Waiting until you know the perfect thing to say. Just say whatever is in your heart, or say nothing at all. Sometimes just being there is comfort enough.
Try not to say any of the following:
- It was God’s will - it was meant to be.
- He/ She is in a better place now.
- Time heals all wounds.
- I know just how you feel.
- It was for the best - now you will have an angel in heaven - it could have been worse…
- It’s been (amount of time) and you have to get on with your life.
- Everything happens for a reason.
These suggestions have been adapted from BabySteps Children’s Fund, www.babysteps.com but don’t think they are only applicable to children – not at all. They have a very real application in every workplace, home and community where people are dealing with grief and loss.
BabySteps is named after the baby steps that form the long and difficult road to recovery from the loss of a loved one.