Healthy Grieving: How to help someone who is grieving

“In grief, as in so many aspects of our lives (and particularly times of traumatic and adverse events), our relationships with others are vital.” That reminder is offered by Lucey Hone, PhD., author of Resilient Grieving. In her exceptional book, Dr. Hone offers these eight ways family, friends and colleagues can help anyone who is grieving.

1. Let the bereaved tell their story. When they talk about it, they “get it out” and are able to witness their grief. Furthermore, each re-telling of the story diminishes the pain bit by bit. Allow grievers the liberty of telling and re-telling their story over and over again.

2. Help the bereaved adjust practically to life without their loved one. “Anyone who has lost a partner will be coming to terms not only with emotional turmoil but also with the loss of all the roles they played,” she notes. These roles include cooking, taking out the rubbish, dealing with school teachers, paying bills, etc. Those who want to help this way can begin by asking themselves: what are the practical challenges the survivor faces and how can I help to solve any of them.

3. Discourage the bereaved from making major life-changing decisions too soon. “Grieving is hard enough: it’s better done in a familiar environment, and decisions are best not undertaken while grieving,” writes Dr. Hone. A time of bereavement is not a time to sell a home, make a career change, change a financial portfolio, take a few months to travel around the planet.

4. Help the bereaved reminisce. Many grievers find themselves the object of a conspiracy of silence. Family, friends and colleagues hesitate to talk about their deceased loved one out of fear it will be too upsetting. Dr. Hone notes: “No one who is bereaved will ever mind you talking about those they loved.”

5. Understand the bereaved’s lack of tolerance for life’s small frustration and details. After her daughter, Abi, was killed in an auto accident, Dr. Hone remembers how low her tolerance was for life’’s small details and how good friends can ease that burden. “I recall my work colleague Kate helping me out one day at the local pool. We both had prepaid entry tickets, but for some odd reason, mine was indicating I had no swims left.” Her friend, Kate, simply said: “You go and get changed, I’ll deal with this.” Kate resolved an issue that would have tested Dr. Hone’s patience.

6. Give the bereaved time to grieve. Simply put, “grieving takes time, and the best support networks for the bereaved are those people who truly understand this.” Dr. Hone also reminds supporters that some specific “time points” are naturally more difficult that other times. “Check in around the three-month mark, when counselors are often told by the bereaved that no one seems to care anymore and people are avoiding them,” she writes. Also, the first anniversary and all birthday and holidays are particularly challenging. Be there at those times.

7. Don’t compare your own grief stores with those of the very recently bereaved. “When a friend, colleague or family member has newly lost someone they love, the immediate aftermath is not an appropriate time to compare your own grief experiences.” A better approach is to listen and respond with statements such as, “I just don’t know what to say or I can’t image how tough it is.”

8. Stand by through depression. Though depression is a common, but temporary, phase of the grieving process, people often want to help a griever bypass depression and cheer them up. “What we really need is friends to stand quietly by us and understand that it’s part of the process. Sit with us and accept that we are profoundly sad and that we may need life to just slip quietly by us for a little while,” she says.

By focusing on human inherent kindness, compassion and ability to be supportive, family, friends and colleagues will be instrumental in helping grievers overcome loss and live again.

Victor M. Parachin, M. Div.,
is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.

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