What do you say to someone who is grieving? What do you do to help? Our grief educator, Chelsea Hanson, has provided the basics of how to help someone who lost a loved one. We hope you find this guidance beneficial.
Suggestions are given on how to provide immediate help and throughout the grieving process. If you have not experienced a deep loss yourself, reading this information will provide insight and ideas on how you can provide caring and beneficial support.
In short, your job is simply to honor the loss, respect the grief, recognize the pain and try to understand the grief process. Most importantly, your role is to be with the bereaved in their time of need and to validate their experience.
How to Provide Immediate Comfort
There are many heartfelt and useful ways to help someone who just lost a loved one.
Be There. The most important thing you can do is be present with the family. Don’t stay away because you are afraid that you may say or do the wrong thing.
Go to the Service. There is no substitute for your physical presence. It sends an invaluable message of support. If you live too far away to make a personal visit, call or write to express your sympathy.
Share your Genuine Sorrow. Don’t worry about what to say, just share from your heart. Simplicity is best.
Listen. Most importantly, the bereaved want to be heard. Just listen, and let them tell you about their loss.
Share a Memory. Reminisce and tell a fond memory about the person who died. The bereaved want to talk about their loved one. Your recollection of the deceased will be a wonderful gift.
Cry. It’s okay to cry. The family can find comfort in knowing you are sad too. Your tears show you care about the family and their loved one.
Smile and Laugh. It’s okay to laugh. There is a myth that laughter is not appropriate at time of loss. However, a friendly smile or laugh can ease the pain. Memories about the loved one can include times when he or she made others smile, laugh, or just feel good.
Use Appropriate Physical Contact. When words fail, put your arm around your friend’s shoulder or give a hug. Actions can speak instead of words.
How Can I Help a Grieving Friend Over Time?
After the flurry of activities calms down and everybody returns to their regular activities, the magnitude of the loss starts to set in. This can be one of the worst times for the bereaved, and it is when friends can be needed the most. Here are some ideas on how to help:
Listen. As previously mentioned, this is the most important way you can help your friend. Just listen…don’t offer suggestions, advice or solutions. By freely giving a sympathetic ear, this allows your friend to feel safe to express his or her feelings. Learn to be comfortable with shared silence too.
Reminisce. Reminisce with your friend about his or her loved one’s life. Sharing fond memories is a wonderful way to provide comfort. Remember, talking about the deceased will not hurt or upset the person grieving. In fact, it is just the opposite. Your friend will appreciate that you haven’t forgotten about their loved one, especially as time goes on.
Check in Regularly. This simple act will show you care, as well as make your friend more comfortable and secure. This is especially important in the first few years after the loss, as your friend gradually adjusts to not having the physical presence of their loved one.
Learn about Grief. To understand what your friend is going through, do your best to learn about grieving. By having an understanding of the grief process, you can offer more sensitive care and compassion.
Remember. Honor special dates including the date of death, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, which may be especially hard on the bereaved. Your support will be needed and welcomed, especially on these days.
Being a friend to the grieving will not always be easy. Your friend has changed and will continue to change as he or she journeys through grief. Your gift of support, however, will always be remembered and cherished.
Expect your friend to heal gradually, but know the loss always remains.
How Can I Express My Condolences?
Giving a Meaningful Sympathy Gift. Giving a sympathy gift can sometimes be difficult because you may not know what is appropriate. Below are some thoughtful gift ideas that the family will appreciate.
A Memory Book. This can be given for the family to complete in the months and years ahead after the loss and may provide some healing and reflection. Alternately, you can create a memory book yourself with any memorabilia that the family may like, including pictures, poems or letters about the deceased.
Keepsakes. Often those grieving are most comforted by something tangible to hold or see. Thus, keepsakes such as statues, plaques or picture frames are comforting gifts.
Garden Statuary. Many people have memorial gardens to honor their loved one. Along with the flowers and other greenery, a beautiful memorial gift makes a lovely touch in the garden. Consider a garden stone, angel figurine or a bench with a touching saying or personalization.
Memory Box. This can be used for tucking away items pertaining to the loved one’s funeral, such as the program, guest registry, memorial card, obituary and sympathy cards. Alternately, it can store treasured items, such as pictures, jewelry or other mementos of the loved one.
Photo Book. Candid photos about the loved one’s life are often displayed at the funeral. Because such loving care was used to gather the pictures, a special photo book for all the cherished photos can be given to the family.
What Else Can I Do to Help?
Offering Proactive and Specific Assistance. For those who have lost a loved one, it can be hard to ask for help. Thus, instead of saying, “Call me if you need anything,” it is better to be proactive and offer specific assistance.
Offer help only if you can follow through. Offer assistance in a way that makes sense in your life. Can you drive the carpool? Drop off a meal? Mow the lawn once a week without asking? Take the kids for the afternoon?
Give without expectations. Grieving is energy-draining, and common courtesies can be neglected by the bereaved. Don’t feel bad if you card, flowers or meal is not acknowledged. Thanks may not come for your kindness, but your care will be appreciated. Your thoughtfulness could be the light in the grieving person’s day.
Offer to perform routine tasks. Ordinary chores around the home are the last thing on the mind of a person who is grieving. Things you can do include:
Cut the grass or shovel the driveway.
Take care of the pets with a walk or play time.
Pick up household items at the store or offer to run errands.
Take the kids to the park or invite them play at your home.
Bring food to the family. It relieves the burden of planning meals, shopping and cooking, especially when the family may not have the energy for such chores.
Take simple and healthy snacks as well as comfort foods.
Bring frozen dishes, which can be used at any time.
Call ahead to ask what food is needed or what there is plenty of already.
Take food containers that do not have to be returned.
Label the dish contents and include cooking instructions.
Bring plastic forks, paper plates, napkins and disposable cups.
Offer your companionship. Going through grief can be lonely; however, the loneliness can sometimes be relieved with some company and conversation.
Invite the person to watch a game or popular television program.
Encourage your friend to join you for a walk or trip to the park.
Suggest seeing the latest movie or play.
Offer to attend an event your friend may have normally attended with his or her loved one.
Offer to visit your friend at their home if he or she does not want to be in public.
About our Grief Educator, Chelsea Hanson
As an author, Chelsea Hanson has the special gift of finding the right words when they are needed most. Having experienced loss and transcended grief herself, Chelsea provides a sense of comfort and understanding to help people with grief. Her reassuring words provide hope that you too will be able to journey through grief and find a new appreciation of life.
Copyright 2012, Chelsea Hanson, With Sympathy Gifts and Keepsakes, LLC. All rights reserved. The information may not be used, reproduced or transmitted in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise. Powered by www.ChelseaHanson.com