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Helping those who are grieving

How can we help those around us – at work, in our neighbourhood, at church – who have experienced the death of a loved one? Here are some helpful suggestions.

Be willing to listen:

When I’m grieving, I need to be with people who are willing to listen; sometimes to the same story over and over again. It’s one of the ways that I work through my grief and make the loss real.

Be prepared to sit with whatever emotion I feel:

You only need to let me express it; you don’t have to fix it. Sometimes I need to have you tell me that it’s okay to talk about my feelings, but it’s probably better if you don’t say “How are you?” It’s too easy for me to say “fine” or “better” and then keep my feelings inside. If instead, you say “I know it’s really hard for you right now; would it help to talk about it?” I know that you recognize my pain and that you really want to hear about it.

Know that there aren’t answers:

There’s only the process of working through the pain.

That’s my job, in whatever way and for however long it takes. Don’t try to accelerate the grief process; I need to find my own pace. You can help by being there; to validate my feelings.

You are a witness to my grief and by doing so you can help to make it real.

Please don’t say things like “it will get better”; that feels like a discount of my pain.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who died.

Talk about the person and his or her life. Talk about what you miss and what was important to you about the person who died. This reminds me that my loved one was loved and liked and respected and is remembered and missed.

Just being there is the most important thing you can do for me.

Don’t try to erase the pain. Honour it by being willing to be in its company. Just saying “I’m sorry it hurts so much” lets me know that you recognize the pain.

If you don’t know what will help, ask.

I really want to be helpful but I need to have you tell me what would feel supportive to you.”

Remember to take good care of yourself.

Don’t be afraid to say that my pain is too hard for you to watch whenever that’s true for you. Your needs are valid too and it’s important for you to find ways to get support, from friends or family or a group or a counselor.

Reprinted with permission from the Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc. newsletter.

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