Updated: Mar 8
Grief is the normal reaction to a loss of any kind. We think grief is caused only by death but it can be caused by the end of any life circumstance including divorce, job loss, pet loss, major illness, retirement or any many other events. In spite of fact that everyone will experience loss in their lifetime, grief remains a neglected and misunderstood process. We have all heard the saying that "The only things in life are death and taxes." There is one more thing that should added to that comment and that is: loss.
Of course grievers want to recover. They pursue help from many different sources including grief counseling, support groups and books. After seeking support form all these resources, they are still confronted by the fact that our entire society is ill equipped to provide the support that will help them to work through their grief. Grief is cumulative and can make a life long negative impact on a person's capacity for happiness. Why are family and friends unable to provide grief support? Each grief is unique just as all people are different. Grief support or lack thereof is generational. We learn from our parents and everyone that came before them.
Most people are well intentioned but often say things that are unhelpful. In some cases comments can make things worse. Family and friends don't know what to say. You may have heard and possibly even have said "I know how you feel". Since all grief is unique, even if you have had a parallel loss, you really don't know how anyone feels. Never compare losses and remember that loss is loss and pain is pain.
People may be afraid of our feelings and may try to minimize it. Society teaches us that sad or painful feelings should be dealt with privately. Some of the comments that may be said include:
* Pull yourself together
* Your loved one would never want you feel like this
* You have an angel in heaven You can get pregnant again
* At least you have other children
* Everything happens for a reason
This is not an exhaustive list and you can probably add to it.
Family and friends will often try to change the subject. This gives the griever a message that they cannot share their pain. There is a difference between intellectual vs emotional statements. You may notice that some of the comments above may be true statements. Yes, it is true that he is no longer in pain. Maybe she can have another baby or has other children. These intellectual comments provide no support to the griever. Grief is by definition the emotional response to loss. The cause of the loss may be intellectual but the response to it is emotional.
1) Stay close. Isolation is a common reaction to loss. Take your cue from the griever. Don't assume they want to be left alone. Offer support. Let them know they are not alone.
2) Offer practical things. Child care, cooking, cleaning, run errands are some help that is appreciated. Don't say "Let me know if there is anything you need" Grieving people are overwhelmed. They will not usually reach out. Instead, be specific, "I will be off on Tuesday, I will come over to help with some house work"
3) Talk about the loss. Use the person's name. We are often afraid to cause pain to the griever. They look normal, they must be having a good day so I don't want to remind them. They have not forgotten their loved one. Your willingness to talk about their loss will be welcome. You might talk to the griever one day and they talk about their loss and another day they may not want to talk but ultimately they will be grateful to you for your willingness to talk about their loss.
"How are you today? I don't know if you want to talk today but I would be honored to listen"
4) Consider writing a letter with your memories of the deceased. This will mean more than a sympathy card.
The list goes on and on but the common thread is that our family and friends who have experienced a significant emotional loss need help and support. Remember their are no magical wands that will take away their pain. Your support will be remembered for years to come.