Things You Can Do For a Grieving Person
No one practices for grieving and trauma. People do not know what to say or do in many cases. When I am asked, “What do I say?” I tell people,” Say hello”; the words will come. Just don’t ignore your family/friend/relative/co-worker. Naturally, your support and care will differ with a family member, friend or co-worker. Just do what you can and what feels good to you.
Most of these suggestions are for the beginning stages of grief. I want to stress that every person handles grief in their own time and way. That is why I chose the name “Griefprints” for my blog.
When Christopher was murdered, people used to ask “How are you?” and I would answer, “Fine.” A few people actually went one step further and asked “How are you really? How are you dealing with missing Christopher and his death?” When I heard these questions, I was always grateful. Instead of automatically answering “I’m fine,” I could respond fully, “This is really is a nightmare.” “I miss Christopher and it’s unimaginable that he’s not coming back.”
I remember that despite my grief over losing Christopher, I often felt I had to take care of other people. The situation was too awful for them to think about. So when someone wanted to know how I really felt, it was a relief knowing that I didn’t have to take care of them.
Other things you might say:
“How are you doing since the death of (here you can name the person)?”
Or “How are you managing since the death of _________?”
“Are you getting what you need to get through this?”
“Are you taking care of yourself?”
“Are there any questions you have, or anything you want to talk about?”
Your friend, family member or maybe someone you hardly know needs caring for. First, always ask if they are ready for a visit. If they are, check before you visit to see if something is needed. Simple things become very hard when you are in shock. Does your family/person need groceries, dry cleaning picked up, KLEENEX (soft kind) or postage stamps? Are there any phone calls you can make for them? How about picking their children up at school? Always ask…please.
If you do visit, spend time with them in whatever shape they may be. Hold their hand, make a cup of tea, encourage them to relax in the garden, take a short walk; be with them (leave your cell phone in the car). Ask them what they need in the moment and follow their lead.
At this time, it’s an effort for the grieving person to get through the day. What you can do best is simply to be there with them and respond to any needs they express.
One bit of help you can offer is to put a message on their answering machine. At this time calls are coming in rapidly, and the grieving person doesn’t always want to have to answer the phone and talk to people. The message might say: “Thank you for calling. Your call is sincerely appreciated. We will get back to you when we’re able.”
Another common concern for a grieving person is sleep. Often, they have great difficulty sleeping initially. You might ask your friend, relative, co-worker about their sleep, and if they are having difficulty, suggest natural sleeping aids before they go to prescription.
Most people were afraid to mention Christopher, for fear of upsetting me. But this was what I really wanted to talk about. And these stories brought Christopher back into the room.
Almost immediately, funny stories about Christopher helped me. My sisters, daughter, brothers and I would sit around and reminiscence. “Do you remember when Christopher played Santa Claus and he was so thin he had to put two pillows in his pants?”
A freshly grieving person has this to say:
“The most meaningful communications I have received are people’s fond remembrances of my mom and dad. It’s not so much the sweeping generalizations (“what a wonderful person she was”), but rather the specific stories (“I remember this one time when your dad was coaching your little league team.”) that I appreciate most. Whether humorous or profound, in the early stages of grief these stories reminded me -in the midst of such overwhelming despair -about how much my parents positively affected other lives. These stories made me feel warm inside at a time when everything seemed unbelievably dark and cold. It was also more meaningful somehow because it was very personal. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the easier things you can do for a grieving person; simply sharing a story.”
It also helped me to talk about all I had lost with Christopher’s murder. I wanted to talk about what the future would and would not offer: no wedding, no more birthdays, and no grandchildren. In losing Christopher, I lost all of that.
- Send Cards
Most people get a flood of cards when they lose their loved one, but the cards quickly stop. Consider daring to be different and send one a week for a while. Very small gestures of kindness go along way.
Many years ago dear friends Karl and Tony went to Boston for experimental cancer treatment. I sent them off with a personal “Get Well” card to open every day. I called it my “one-a-day multiple vitamins.” My husband, Gary and I wrote jokes, silly quotes and “don’t forget to be nice to the nurses.” When I talked to these friends, Karl said that he and Tony both brightened up everyday when it was time for Tony to open his card.
- Send Emails (once you’ve contacted the person)
If your grieving person communicates by email….email them. Just a quick note to let them know you are thinking about them. “Thinking of you; I’m here when you need me.” “I hope there’s a little sunshine in your day somewhere.” They may not answer at first, but when they do look at their email, they will REALLY appreciate you thinking of them. For somebody fresh with grief, nothing feels normal. An added benefit of a quick email is that it takes them back to a time when life was intact, and that can feel good, if only for a moment.
You can also send cards, images, photos via email.
- Remember the Children
Children can get forgotten when grieving is fresh and life becomes chaotic. Include the children in whatever you do. And don’t underestimate what they understand. Sometimes protecting children too much is harmful. Let them participate in appropriate ways. At the funeral/memorial, for example, the children can read a poem; scatter rose petals, light a candle or tell a story.
Send a sympathy card to the child/children too. Ask them “How are you really?” If needed, advise school counselors about the family situation. Do something with the children by themselves so they feel your love and caring.
When our grandchildren were seven and nine, their father died. In addition to everything we did, soon after the death, Gary and I picked the kids up and took them to dinner. Shortly after this, we created “Family Night,” for the extended family. And we have continued the tradition. Every other Sunday, all of us get together for dinner. We rotate who cooks, and if it’s your birthday, you can choose the menu.
Thank you to Georgia, Carolyn, Lisa, Jessalyn, David and Stacy for help with this series