Comforting the Bereaved

Published by Chapster on 2002/12/8 (13456 reads)
Taped in the KEOM studios in December 2002. This is the script from an interview with Dr. James Griffin, Station Director for KEOM. This article offers information about the grief process and suggestions on how to help people through the grieving process by simply being present with them.

Q: So, what are we talking about today, Mike?

A: We're talking about how to offer comfort to someone who's grieving. We generally stumble around trying to find something to say, words that will bring comfort. In general, our culture struggles with the appropriate expression of emotions.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Well, remember in grade school, when you were talking in front of class, the teacher would tell you to keep your hands out of your pocket. But, we never knew what to do with our hands. That's the way grief is. We are often raised not to cry or not to express emotion. So, if we do, both those around us, and we, also, feel awkward. But, the expression of grief is not only normal, but healing.

Q: What does that mean to how we care for the survivors of grief?

A:It means that we have to give them the freedom to grieve. We have to be willing to hear their grief story non-judgementally, to understand that grief affects all areas of a person's life, to be present through the progress of grief, and to recognize that this sorrow will often lose it's strength only with the passing of a good deal of time and our own grief work.

Q: So, practically, what can we do to help those who are grieving?

A: First, we can be present with them. This doesn't mean talking, necessarily. Indeed, many of us would be wise to speak less. Who can give adequate words to the meaning of a loved one's death? It is a time to encourage them to talk. And for us to hear them.

We can share with them our own sense of loss, and how much this person was loved. People vary: some Grievers want to be alone; some want to be surrounded by friends. Our job, in this case, is to ask how we can help, be willing to help, and ask and anticipate what will be needed. Then, do it. Ultimately, the needs of the Griever should determine what we say and do, and when.

We should focus on the person. We should avoid the cliches that are so much a part of the death process, unless it is clear that the survivor takes comfort from them. Much could be written about the well-intended, but, insensitive things that we sometimes say. I have heard folks tell the grieving parents of a dead child: "Well, thank God you've got other children."

It may be our religious understanding that the loved one has gone to Heaven. That's a very hopeful idea. But the human part of folks may only be able to see the intense feeling of loss and the unimaginable pain of the future without this person.

We should also be attentive to the process. Unfortunately, we are not geared to processes that take time in our society. And, grief takes time. If someone REALLY wants to help the Griever, you need to check up with them months after the death. A group of widows that we spoke to told us with evident pain of the loneliness that they felt. The time of greatest sorrow is often not until several months after the death, when everyone else is gone. This is one of the most meaningful times to follow up.

Perhaps, most importantly, be real and be yourself. There is no greater insult to the grief process than our personal agendas.

Tags: loss   care   grief   support   friendship   comfort  

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