If you live long enough in life, you will find yourself needing to comfort a friend or a relative who is mourning the loss of a loved one. We get caught up in a situation where we don’t want to make the bereaved feel sad or lonely. In desperation to make them feel better, we mess everything up and get the person alienated or feeling worse. This could be because we don’t know the right words to say or the proper things to do. Funny enough, we want to avoid sounding cliché so much that we end up coming across as absurd through our words and actions.
There is no quick fix to a grieving heart; and I won’t sell that unrealistic idea. The bereaved go through enormous and painful emotions like anger, guilt, hate, anxiety, dejection, etc. Sometimes, they want to be alone. Other times, they need someone to be there for them. When one is hurt or aggrieved because of the loss of a loved one, or the end of a relationship, or a failed venture, it is not an opportunity to be a motivational speaker or an avenue to display your oratory skills. Eloquent speeches don’t take away the pain of losing a loved one.
It is understandable if you fear saying something horrible or making the person feel worse by your actions. However, don’t allow your fears stop you from reaching out and supporting a friend who is grieving. Your presence and concern will be useful to help the person cope with the reality and heal; not necessarily faster, but better. The key thing is to keep things simple and abide by the following steps.
Note that we are unique in our own ways and our sensitivities differ. These concise lists of DOs and DON’Ts capture the important things but we must understand the individual.
Things You Should Not Say or Do Around the Bereaved
- They are in a better place: This is a cliché statement often used by people with strong religious beliefs. However, someone grieving, going through different emotions, may not find this statement helpful. No matter how beautiful the imaginary better place seems, the bereaved would not believe there is a better place for the deceased than being at home, alive and with loved ones creating beautiful memories.
- I know how you feel: No, you don’t! Not even when you’ve lost someone who meant the same to you as the deceased meant to them. No one will understand the high wall, bottled emotions and the painful depth of the loss as they do. Don’t ever say you do. Don’t compare the situation with your own experience; they are trying to cope with the loss; not listen to tales.
- Be strong and move on: This is what I call ‘negative motivation.’ It gives the false impression that sadness over a loss is a sign of weakness. Everyone should grieve and heal at their own pace. Let the bereaved know that healing is natural, not forced, and the amount of time needed varies from one person to another. There is no competition for who heals faster.
- It is God’s plan: This is another popular saying by people deeply seated with religious values. We’ve seen people, even the most religious of us, lose loved ones and ask questions like “Why does God allow us to suffer?” “Does God really care about us?” “Is God’s will that of pain?” Avoid this “It is God’s plan” statement. Rather than bringing comfort, it may frustrate the bereaved.
- Avoiding them: Losing a loved one is not infectious. Avoiding them is disrespectful and hurtful. If you lack the words to say, just be there for them. Being invisible and distant like the person’s loss is contagious is mostly unhelpful. You can’t fix the loss but you can be there for your friend.
Things You Can Do
- Keep it simple: When it is necessary to say something to the bereaved, keep it simple and short. Making it complex complicates things and can lead to sad situations. Even some words spoken with good intentions can hurt, and the person grieving may not be in the best place to see the good intentions behind the words. Avoid sarcasm especially.
- Be emotionally present: It is very important to let a grieving friend know that you are there to listen to them if they want to talk. Nonetheless, don’t force them to open up. Know your presence will give them the assurance that they have a shoulder to cry on; someone who can share in their deafening silence.
- Be patient: The bereaved may like to talk about how the deceased died or lived many times in a very detailed way. Be patient with them and listen throughout. Talking about the person, or his death helps the bereaved to process and accept the death. It is a coping mechanism for the loss. A bereaved person may be erratic; however, be kind enough not to judge or take their reactions personal.
- Check out for signs of depression: It is very common for a grieving person to feel depressed, worried, or disconnected from life. Regularly observe the person mourning. if the person continues like this for a longer time, instead of telling them what to do which may sound intrusive, express your feelings and concerns to them. You should not say, “I suggest they see a shrink because you have been acting weird recently.” Say, “I am worried you don’t sleep well; I think you should think about getting help.”
- Provide support: Friends of a grieving person may say, “let me know if you need anything.” The person grieving may not remember to call you for help; maybe because they don’t want to burden you with their loss. Instead of offering support with words, provide support with your actions. Ask them for a specific task you can help them do. You can help with funeral arrangements, help them receive guests, do shopping for them, cook or go on a walk with them. Remember that condolences, no matter how good,, don’t really touch the grief. Taking an action towards supporting the bereaved will be a relief.
Bear in mind that grieving or mourning doesn’t end with the funeral when the visits must have reduced and the cards and flowers have stopped coming. It becomes a very lonely period for the bereaved and as earlier pointed out, the duration of the grieving process differs from one person to another. Your bereaved friend probably still needs your support and care to heal when the crowd must have continued with their lives. Keep in touch with the person, visit them periodically and offer extra support on special days like anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, as the pain of the loss may be reawakened.
Finally, we will all experience the loss of loved ones at different times in our lives. It is how life is designed and it is an overwhelming personal experience. However, everyone grieves and feels differently. Healing is also never time-bound. Do not let your fears about what to do or say stop you from offering your support. The best thing you can do for a friend that is grieving is to be there for the person. We should offer practical support and let the person know we are there to listen to them even in silence. Our support and care will help a grieving person heal better. Remember, one may never get over the loss of a loved one but will just have to get through it.
Remember to lend a voice to #EndSARSNow