Help from others is an important component in recovering from grief. Friends often want to support the family of the deceased, but find that they don’t know what to do.
Research has indicated that people who have experienced a loss do not always find the reactions of their friends, however well-intended, supportive. For example, Brabant, Forsyth, and McFarlain recently reported that parents who had lost a child were angry with their friends. Parents commented that friends shied away, never mentioned the deceased’s name, or supported them initially but did not continue the support over a period of time.
Various members of the grief support newsgroup have shared suggestions of how to support a bereaved person. Their ideas of things to offer or provide include:
- A card with a list of concrete things that you have to offer listed 1, 2, 3.
- Polish shoes for the family.
- An invitation to coffee, dinner, a walk, or visit.
- Cards and letters with pictures or memories of the deceased.
- Information about and encouragement to attend a grief support group.
- A place for relatives to stay.
- Transportation to or from the airport for relatives.
- Assistance in planning and organizing the funeral.
- Nonperishable food items.
- List making and record keeping so thank you’s can be sent.
- Transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery store, etc.
- Assistance with shopping, cleaning, and other errands.
- Child care at the funeral home and in the days following so that the bereaved can rest without having to worry about the needs and safety of their surviving child or children.
- Addressing and stamping envelopes for thank you notes.
- A piece of jewelry with the deceased’s name engraved on it.
- Concrete help-not just, “Call me if you need something.”
- A note or a call. They mean so much! Particularly a few months later when everyone gets on with their lives and the grieving person is alone with their pain.
- An invitation to go out.
- A card in memory of the deceased on his or her birthday or on the date of death.
- Help with yard work.
Other suggestions include:
- Do not be afraid to speak the deceased’s name. He or she was important to their family, and they need to hear his or her name.
- Lend an interested ear. It separates real friends from ones who become more distant-however, don’t force the issue. Just let the bereaved know you will listen.
- Allow the bereaved to get emotional and cry. Crying and emotional outbursts are healing.
- Do not compare the bereaved’s tragedy to your loss of a parent, a spouse, or a pet.
- Grieving is not contagious-don’t shy away.
- Be aware that all of the “crazy” grief reactions are in fact very normal. Depression, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and the questioning of values and beliefs are to be expected.
- Don’t expect the grief to be over in six months. The first few years are going to be exceedingly traumatic. As with alcoholics, they will never be “cured” or a “former bereaved parent,” but will forevermore “be a recovering bereaved parent.”
- Understand the physical reactions to grief. The bereaved may gain weight or lose weight, sleep all the time or not at all, develop a host of illnesses, and be accident prone-all of which may be related to the grief.
- Do not offer drinks or drugs. These are just temporary crutches and the only way the bereaved can get through the grief is to experience it.