The grieving period is different for everyone. Many of us feel awkward talking about death and shy away from talking to family and friends. It’s important to remember that communication is vital to helping you move on during the grieving period. Julia Samuel, author of GRIEF WORKS, shares how family and friends can help a grieving loved one.
Be honest. Honesty is comforting and easy to deal with. There is a direct cleanness to honesty that cuts through much of the complex messiness of grief, and this can come as an enormous relief to people. Also be honest about what you actually can do rather than covering up because you feel guilty about what you can’t. Be specific: say “I’m going to come by for half an hour” or “I’ll come on Tuesday”; don’t say “I’ll come whenever you want, tell me, and I’ll be there,” and then find you can’t deliver on that offer.
While being honest is important, so is being sensitive. Promiscuous honesty is not a good idea. Jenny, whose son had died very suddenly and tragically, showed me an e-mail whose first line read: “I’ve been thinking of you. . . .” It then went on to outline in great detail, in the chirpiest tone possible, how all the woman’s children were thriving. Be aware of the bereaved person’s feelings when you talk about your own living parent, partner, or child, when it is that relation of your friend who has died. Or be aware of showing too openly that your life is trotting along happily, which can feel like rubbing their nose in your happiness.
Be in it for the long haul
Try to remember to make contact and be supportive after everyone else has gone. Usually about three months following the death, people get back to their lives, as they should. But it is by no means over for the person who is bereaved. Sending a text or popping by can be hugely supportive. “I feel so lonely” is the regular cry of the people I see. Grieving is lonely-making. All that missing, and wanting, and not finding can feel like excruciating loneliness. Warm, caring, human contact helps take the chill out of it. It can’t make the pain go away, but being connected and remembered helps your friend to bear it. One of the things that stops people making contact in the months after the death is that they are worried they will remind their bereaved friend of something they’d rather forget. They may not want to talk to you right at that moment, but be assured they are never going to forget about the person who has died. It will, most likely, be the thing taking up the majority of their head space for far longer than you think. I spoke to a mother, Elizabeth, whose son had died forty years ago. She had certainly gotten on with her life and found happiness again. She said: “It warms me to hear his name. And I like to reminisce, especially on special days like his birthday and the anniversary of his death.” A father, Paul, whose son died many years previously, said something similar: “For me grief is a way of bringing myself closer to George, so it is not something from which I shy away. It is my grief, but I am no longer afraid of it, as I was in those dark weeks after George died.”
These are only a few of the ways friends and family can help a grieving loved one. You can find all of the suggestions from Julia Samuel in her book GRIEF WORKS.