There's a common mistake people make when trying to comfort the bereaved. It starts with the words: "If you need anything, call me. I am here for you."
Unfortunately, though this statement sounds good, it usually becomes an empty promise leading to painful silence after the funeral service. This silence arises from wrongly believing the bereaved person will reach out if they need to talk.
Studies have shown that people who are grieving do not call and ask for help. If we really mean to be there for them, then we need to be specific with our offer, such as, "How about you and I go out for lunch this Wednesday? I'll pick you up. What time would work for you?"
The most helpful thing that
friends of grievers can do is avoid
intellectual statements. Allow the griever
to talk about their broken heart.
Another cause of silence is that even well-meaning friends, co-workers, and loved ones don't know what to say to someone who has just experienced a loss. We fear saying the wrong thing, so we say nothing at all. Consequently, many grievers often feel abandoned by friends in the midst of their loss. It's not uncommon to hear someone say, "The people I thought I could count on were not there for me."
Silence can also come from the things people do say. Sometimes the things we think are comforting and helpful actually keep the bereaved from talking about their loss. We may be silencing their need to share their feelings by making "head" statements rather than "heart" statements.
"At least" statements cut off processing grief, minimizing the griever's pain and loss experience. While intellectually accurate, these comments offer no emotional support:
At least they didn't suffer
At least they are in a better place
At least you found out sooner rather than later
At least you know they are in Heaven
At least he or she is out of pain
Other statements to avoid:
I know how you feel
Everything happens for a reason
You have to be strong, for the kids and your family
It has been long enough - you need to move on
Everything happens for a reason - sometimes life doesn't make sense
The most helpful thing that friends of grievers can do is avoid intellectual statements. Allow the griever to talk about their broken heart. Encourage them to talk as often and as long as they want. Follow up with a specific time and place when making plans to be there for them. Mend the painful silence by listening and responding.
Next month we will present what we can say that is helpful to the griever.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700