When trying to help a person who is in mourning, you may not know what to say or do. Because they fear upsetting the individual by saying or doing the wrong thing, some people choose to avoid the situation altogether. This is definitely an option available to you, but doing nothing is often a mistake. The funeral homes in Washington, DC and elsewhere in the nation have staff that can guide you on proper behavior and healing words. Below is some basic information to assist you in helping someone who has experienced a severe loss.
First of all, it is important to understand that you are there to support the griever- you do not have the central role. Many sources advise the bereaved to act and feel differently than he or she does, but grief is a deeply personal experience belonging solely to the person who is going through it. Follow his or her lead.
You should also stay in the present and tell the person the truth. You may be tempted to reminisce or talk about the future because the now is so painful for the griever. The past will not bring the bereaved adequate relief and you do not know if things will get better later. Also, do not make generalized statements like the deceased is “in a better place” in an attempt to make the mourner feel better. Such platitudes are not helpful. Just let the person know that this is a difficult time, that you care for them and that you are there to help them in any way you can.
Your friend’s loss is impossible to solve, repair or fix, so don’t try. The pain that they are experiencing cannot be reduced so avoid any attempts to take it away. You will likely bear witness to their intense and unspeakable pain. It is challenging to be near someone who is in pain because it leads to stress, questions, fear, guilt and anger. You may feel hurt, ignored and undervalued. Your friend is unable to carry their weight in the relationship as well as they once did. It is not personal and you should not lash out at them. Please find others you can count on during this period so that you have support, as well.
Also, those in mourning are unlikely to call you and ask for practical assistance. They simply lack the energy, capacity and interest. You should anticipate your friend’s needs and make solid offers to help. For example, you can tell them that you will go to their home each morning before work to walk their dog. Please be a reliable helper. Recurring chores and tasks, such as dog walking, grocery shopping and doing the laundry are great opportunities to reduce the burden of secular life on your friend. Ask your friend’s permission before you take care of these responsibilities.
You can also work on more complicated projects together. Things such as choosing a casket, visiting funeral homes or packing up rooms and houses can be made more bearable for the person through your presence. You do not need to speak very much; just being there is evidence of your love.
For those in grief, the flood of people who want to comfort and support them can be incredibly overwhelming. What is for them an intensely private time is largely spent in the view of others. You can serve as their gatekeeper, organizing visits and updating others on the griever’s progress and doings.