What can I do for someone who is grieving? Is there really anyway a “bystander” can help? Sometimes watching a person suffer the pain of loss is almost unbearable. Often in life it is easier to accept our own suffering that it is to accept the anguish of someone we deeply care about.
The most important thing is to “be there” for your friend or family. Even when you don’t understand what they are going through. A feeling of isolation is common to those mourning a death. In our society, we run from suffering and death. Immediately after the death and funeral, most acquaintances get back to their own lives. They may be uncomfortable with death and, subconsciously, even feel afraid that this “bad luck” will rub off on them.
Grievers need to know there is a person that will stick around. Someone they can grieve in front of. Someone who will not change the subject or show discomfort when they cry. Whether we are physically there, sitting at their side as they talk or cry, accompanying them to appointments or activities, or help them carry on with the work of life. Or, if we live in a different place, we can call or e-mail them on a regular basis. Whatever the form of interaction, it is important to listen well and non-judgmentally. This person is experiencing thoughts and emotions that are new to them. Sometimes their thoughts may seem disturbing to them or to us. We must always listen calmly and reassuringly.
When initiating communication, it helps to inquire in specifics. Keep in mind that there are no words that will take their pain away. Our purpose is to provide a outlet or sounding board for their thoughts and feelings. If we just ask, “How are you doing?” it sounds rhetorical and often will be answered as such. Take the same question and make it more specific. “What is on your mind this morning?” “Did you sleep well last night?” “What are you going to do this afternoon?” This simple method subtly gives the message that you are ready to listen to minor details and emotions. It immediately opens the door for a heartfelt interchange if our loved one desires it.
Those of us who wish to help by our actions often comment, “I told Susan to call me if she needed anything, but I haven’t heard from her.” On the flip side, time and again, I have heard a mourner say, “John and Jane said to call if I need anything, but I feel uncomfortable asking them for help.” Most of the time, the reasons those who grieve give me for their hesitation are:
Did the person who offered to help really mean it?
How much or what type of help are they willing to give?
I don’t want them to think I am going to become a pest.
To avoid these stumbling blocks, here are a few tips on how best to offer help:
“I want to bring dinner to your family. Would this week or next week be best? Which night?”
“I am good at yard work. Why don’t I come by next week and see what needs to be done?”
“I could help you get your tax information together this year. Let’s get together in January to get started.”
This way we can specify the type of help that we are willing and able to give. Stating a specific time frame tells the griever that you are serious about your offer and lets them know how to plan for that help.