Long expected or sudden, the death of a loved one begins a season of grief for survivors. You want to help, but don’t know what to say or do.
Sue Shields, Lutheran Family Service counselor in Council Bluffs, has some suggestions.
Be a Support
First, know that there is no “right way” to grieve. Grief takes many forms, and can include emotional outbursts, anger, rage, self-recrimination, withdrawal, numbness, reflection and sadness. In fact, based on factors such as personality type, the relationship of the bereaved and deceased, available coping skills, age, and culture, the grief may look unique to each individual. An important factor in moving into and through grief is the availability of a support team.
When someone you know is grieving, here are some ways to help:
• Be present often and be available when needed. Spending time together – even quietly without conversation – can be helpful.
• Acknowledge all their feelings, including those that make you uncomfortable.
• Ask if you can read to them. Ancient words are almost always better than ours, and the Psalms are a great place to start.
• Stay engaged over time, not just during through the funeral. Write a note, call, send an email, visit, visit again, take food and flowers.
• Be pro-active in your willingness to help. Instead of asking if there is anything you can do, look around. If the lawn needs to be mowed, mow it or enlist someone to do it. If the dishes need to be washed, don’t ask – just wash them.
• Recognize and help to normalize the wide range of grief responses they are going through. It’s helpful to someone who is experiencing strong emotions following a loss to know they aren’t “going crazy” and that they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
• Remember the goal is not to return to “normal”. The loss of a close loved one changes everything, and the way it was will never be that way again. Over time, help your friend find their “new normal”.
• Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Refrain from telling your own stories. There will be time for that later. For now, it needs to be all about them. “Tell me more…,” is a great prompt when you don’t know what to say.
• Be especially sensitive to and available on holidays and special days like the deceased person’s birthday, their anniversary, or any occasion that held special meaning to them.
Share Words of Encouragement
Along with actions and listening, a few kind and encouraging words can make a lasting impact on a grieving friend. The goal is not to make them stop hurting, but to be with them in their pain. You might say:
• “I wish I had the right words; just know I care.”
• “We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.”
• “I am praying that God will surround you with His love during these hard days.”
• “My favorite memory of your loved one is…”
When More Help is Needed
If grief worsens, rather than eases over time, it may be necessary to reach out for help. Signs that suggest more help is needed may include:
• Change in appetite
• Loss of concentration
• Abnormal sleeping habits
• Tightening of the chest
• Refusing to think or talk about the loss or the deceased person
• Avoidance of other people
Lutheran Family Service counselors are here to help during times of need. To schedule a time to meet with a counselor, visit our Mental Health Counseling web page.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4