Grief is a misunderstood and neglected process in life. Because responding to losses and death is often awkward and uncomfortable for both grievers and helpers, those concerned may avoid dealing with grief.
Society promotes many misconceptions about grief that may actually hinder the recovery and growth that follow loss. For example, friends and family may make statements such as, “You must be strong,” “You have to get on with your life,” or “It’s good that he didn’t have to suffer.” Such clichés may help the one saying them, but are rarely helpful to the griever. Other misconceptions may be that it is not appropriate to show emotions except at the funeral, or that “Recovery should be completed within a prescribed amount of time.” Still other misconceptions would imply that the grieving person is being inappropriate by laughing, playing, or being productive at work, etc.
Friends need to avoid these misconceptions and other ways of predetermining what another’s grief process should be life. An individual may have both personal and cultural differences in the ways that he or she deals with grief. Friends need to support the bereaved in recovering and restoring balance in his or her own way.
Guidelines for Helping Someone Who is Grieving
Friends often ask themselves questions, such as: What should I do? What should I say? Am I doing the right thing? What can I do better? Here are some suggestions for helping the person in grief:
1. Take some kind of action. Make a phone call, send a card, give a hug, attend the funeral, help with practical matters (e.g., meals, care of children).
2. Be available. Allow the person time so that there is no sense of “urgency” when you visit or talk.
3. Be a good listener. Accept the words and feelings expressed, avoid being judgmental or taking their feelings personally, avoid telling them what they should feel or what they should do.
4. Don’t minimize the loss and avoid giving clichés and easy answers. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss (i.e., the deceased, the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, the disability, etc.).
5. Allow the bereaved person to grieve for as long or short time as needed. Be patient. There are no shortcuts.
6. Encourage the bereaved to care for themselves. They need to attend to physical needs, postpones major decisions, and allow themselves to grieve and recover.
7. Acknowledge and accept your own limitations. Many situations can be hard to handle, but can be made easier with the help of outside resources – books, workshops, support groups, other friends, or professionals.
Support for the Helper
Supporting a grieving person can also be stressful for the helpers. They need to take care of themselves, while also attending to the need of the families grieving. Since helpers themselves are often grieving, they may need to address heir won healing process. This may include having the opportunity to express their own emotions and turning to other friends for support.
Just as there is no single pattern to grief, there is no single way to help a grieving person. Both the grieving person and any friend who is trying to help may feel unsure and uncomfortable. Either way, remember that it is important to be yourself. Furthermore, remember that as a friend, you probably are helping just by listening and being with the grieving person.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa”
Both English and Spanish versions are available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.