Last month's article dealt with what not to say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. From that article, we learned that grievers often feel abandoned by friends and family and what not to say to someone recently bereaved. This month, our focus will be on how to be supportive of a griever.
We need to remember when a loss first happens the griever is in a state of shock, so they will not remember what is said to them. It is like they are in the Twilight Zone - listening to themselves and others from a distance. Nothing seems real. A study of widows found that it took up to three months before they could actually believe and understand that their spouse was dead and would not return.
While the griever will not remember what was said, they will remember the people who were there for them, so it's important for friends to remain supportive.
One of the ways the grieving person tries to make the loss a reality is by reviewing events. We can help the griever accept what has happened by exploring what led up to the death. It is important to give that person time to talk about how it happened and where it happened.
When we think about helping a griever with their many feelings, it is important to remember that talking about feelings is like peeling an onion. There are layers. Once you talk about one layer there is another beneath that, so it is important to be able to talk about feelings more than one time.
It is good to remind ourselves to stay away from trying to fix the grief with platitudes, scripture, and suggestions. While all those things may be true, the griever needs to talk about feelings around a broken heart. One of the greatest gifts we can give anyone is the gift of listening.
The following are some things we can say:
I can't imagine how you feel
I don't know what to say
I wish I could take your pain away
I can't imagine what you're going through
I was thinking about (insert loved one's name)
I miss him or her
I feel (sad, helpless, angry, numb)
I was thinking about you today
Other ways of helping the griever are to:
Offer to go on a walk or do some form of exercise with them. Exercise helps with grieving and sadness. Not only will you both get to work off some energy, but it can be quality time.
Grief can last up to three years after a death, so during those three years be sure to do special things such as inviting the griever to dinner or other outings.
Remember anniversaries. After the funeral, the griever often feels forgotten. Write down the date of the death and send a card, make a call, or visit on that day.
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
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