Grieving the loss of a loved one is a very normal occurrence and something that affects each one of us. However, I observe how ill-equipped and insensitive many of us are at offering helpful support. In fact more often than not, our behaviour may even aggravate an already painful situation.
So what can you do to help a friend or loved one how has lost a significant person?
Give space but stay in touch
How often do we allow our feelings of awkwardness to get in the way of staying in touch with a grieving friend? From conversations with grieving people it is clear that they have a need to know their friends care about them. At the same time they need space to work through their emotions.
By all means send text messages or given them a call and ask how they are doing. In your conversation ensure that the focus remains on them. Let them “dictate” the content of the chat. Do not ask them how they are and then quickly talk about what is happening in your life. Hear what they say.
I recall how after my father died no one at work even referred to this. No one asked me how I was, no one even acknowledged that he had died! After my mother’s death many years later, I had courtesy calls from a few friends after which life continued as normal for them. The real support I received was from my much older friends who were truly interested in my well-being.
Ask them what they need
It is easy to project our way of dealing with grief onto another and make assumptions of what they need. Instead ask the grieving person what they need from you as a friend. Do they need more space? Would they like to meet to chat? Do they want to talk about what they are experiencing or prefer to work it through on their own? What kind of contact do they need? What would be helpful for them at this time?
Keep your stuff out of the way
It is very sobering to see how friends allow their needs to colour the support they offer those who are grieving. One woman commented on how her colleagues took it personally that she was not her usual perky self. Her peers could not understand why she was quiet and withdrawn. It is evident that they had no comprehension of what it means to lose a significant person, a parent. A month after her mother’s death, her friends expected her to carry on as normal!
Can we be so self-absorbed or unconscious that we are unable to put ourselves in another’s shoes? How would you feel if you lost the parent to whom you were the closest? Take some time to imagine how much this will impact on your life. Even imagining this cannot elucidate the extent of the heartache you will experience when it actually happens.
So often we revert to meaningless comments. For example: “At least your father is still alive”, “At least you had your Mum was around for quite a long time?”, “You will get over it”. None of these statements is helpful for the grieving person. Even if you have lost a parent it does not mean you can know what another grieving person experiences. Every person has their own unique experience.
Help with practical matters
Several clients have struggled to cope with day to day tasks after the loss of a significant other. None of them had the slightest interest in preparing meals. So ask a friend if you can bring a meal. Or better still, take them a homemade meal. Are there other errands to run? Do children need to be collected from school, etc.?
Listening to so many stories, it is clear that we can be more mindful of how to behave toward a grieving person. Do you need to support someone currently and are unsure how best to do so? Seeing a psychologist could be helpful.
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