Helping The Grieving
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Some people are natural nurturers. Others are not. When it comes to grief, even the most natural nurturing people may not know the best way to react or act with someone who just lost a Loved One.
Whether a person lost a Loved One who had 2 legs or 4 (pet), basic grief rules exist. Basic loving, nurturing reactions and actions exist too - to help your grieving friend, family member, neighbor or colleague.
Each of us has "hero" energy inside our soul. We want to help, be someone's hero or "Rock of Gibraltar" when someone needs us. We want to make a positive difference in a person's life. Here are some tips to help you "be a hero" when someone is grieving.
Tips To Help The Grieving
(1) Understand they are emotionally vulnerable. Even the most hard-headed, arrogant person feels extremely vulnerable after he/she loses someone they deeply love. That person may not express it outwardly or openly, but his/her heart is breaking inside.
(2) Say "I'm so sorry." Those three simple words mean so much to someone grieving. No need to flourish it or add your beliefs into the mix. Especially if the loss is fresh and new. If you knew the person (or pet) who died, you can add a little anecdote or memory to that phrase. Or say "He/She will be missed. I remember when.....". If that feels comfortable to you. Or say "I'm so sorry." and relay your memory to the grieving a week or so later.
(3) Hug them. Often. Whether the grieving person doesn't normally like hugs or physical affection, do it anyway. Hugs "ground" us on earth and make us feel emotionally and physically supported. Let the hug last a little longer than usual. Let that person know you support them. If your hug creates a reaction "what are you doing? I don't like physical touch!", don't feel disappointed nor offended. Anger is a normal grief reaction. You gave the grieving an outlet to express his/her feelings! Next time you see the grieving person, make a joke out of it. Laughter is very healthy.
(4) Check on them. Often. Whether a phone call, text or dropping by announced or not. Even if the grieving person is a recluse or likes to normally isolate, check on them. Grief disrupts a person's normal "flow". They need extra nurturing, encouragement, social activity, people around them.
When I lost my brother and sister in 1988, the only person who regularly checked on me was my grandmother. She checked on everyone at least once/week - before losing her 2 grandchildren. She kept that habit after Mark and Kara were killed. Sometimes I wasn't in the mood to talk with her - but always glad she called. She was the only family member who routinely checked on me for 25 years! Except my parents, of course. My parents and I talked often: usually 4x/week. When my mother died (last remaining family member) in 2017, my cousin, "mom's favorite nephew", started checking on me about once a week. Neighbors stopped by my house often - unannounced. Friends called to meet up for lunch, drinks or whatever. All of their gestures meant the world to me. It didn't matter that I normally isolate. Or that those neighbors, friends, cousins didn't normally call, stop by or talk to me. It didn't matter that I experienced loss and grief four times before. Or that I was older (53), a professional medium and "could handle it." Truth was: I couldn't handle it. Every person who visited, called, texted, sent flowers - helped me feel supported and nurtured. No matter what they said or did. They made me feel better. They made me feel loved. Their gestures broke all the "normal rules" and it was wonderful. Still is wonderful.
It's been 16 months since my mom died and my cousin Robert still checks on me about once/week. This past Christmas, we talked on the phone for 2 hours: reminiscing about our childhood family memories. He lives in Texas. I live in Arizona. Those 2 hours were the best Christmas gift in years. We laughed. He remembered things I didn't. I remembered things he didn't. It was wonderful.
(5) Just Be There. This can be the hardest part of being a "hero." You want to fix or repair things. You want to mend their broken heart or erase their bad mood. Truth is: you can't. You cannot replace their grief or remove it. But you can "be present" with them. You can make them laugh; help them with a task; ask how they're doing; ask if they need anything; bring a meal or dessert; or hang out with them if they don't want to go anywhere. Watch a movie with them. Sit near them in silence, reading a magazine or book. Gauge how they're feeling and go with that. When people grieve, their heart feels lonely and empty. Your physical presence, without pressure or stress, will help them. Set aside time to just "be there" with them - with no expectations. If they cry, hold or hug them. If they seem sad, you can ask "do you want to talk about it? What's on your mind?" Don't expect an answer but be open if they respond. Go with their flow.
Loneliness is part of the grief process. A grieving person can be in a room of 40 people and feel utterly alone. "Being there" for that person, sitting near them, speaking or not speaking - will mean so much.
(6) Bring food. No matter how a Loved One dies, the grieving will forget to eat 90% of the time - especially the first month. You can ask "can I bring you anything?". They may say "no, that's OK." They're numb. Take initiative. Ask them "Have you had lunch (dinner, breakfast, whatever)?" If they say "yes", bring them the next meal, a snack or ask them what their favorite foods are. Go to grocery store and bring them their favorite foods. Just one serving is fine if they live alone. If a family of grieving, bring enough for everyone in the house. Why food? When we grieve, our bodies soak up tons of calories. Whether we know it or not. Mental, emotional and spiritual stress swirls around at the same time; depleting our bodies' immune system and energy. Grief requires food and proper nutrition-supplements. Grief often causes dehydration 90% of the time. Key nutrients: Water, Vitamin Bs, Vitamin C and electrolytes.
(7) Remember they are prone to forget. Don't feel slighted if they cannot remember the last time you talked; what you brought or wore to the funeral; what you said last week or one hour ago. They may not even remember to pay a bill; clean house; wash clothes; fuel up the car; eat; or even take a shower.
I was 24 years old when my brother and sister were killed. My parents were almost 48. I lived with them for 8 months following Mark and Kara's deaths. Some days, my mother remembered to do normal things, some days she didn't. My dad walked around like a zombie or laid on the sofa for hours, staring at the ceiling. Some days he went to work. Some days he didn't. My mom didn't work at the time. I did though. When mom had "forgetful days", I cooked, cleaned, made sure they ate, took out the trash, etc. My mother kept an immaculately clean house - her whole life. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," she'd say. So when grief would paralyze her some days, I kept her house as spotless as possible: removing clutter, throwing away yesterday's newspapers, washing dishes, clothes, etc. Some days she'd get mad and say "I can do it myself! Let me cook!" That was grief anger. I didn't take it personally; stopped what I was doing and took a walk.
(8) When you're around a grieving person, don't take their reactions personally.
(9) Don't Judge Them. Whether their loss is 2 hours old or 2 years old, a grieving person is still adjusting to his/her "new normal." Especially if the grieving was deeply close to the person they lost. If they react badly, cut them some slack.
They say the grief process takes at least 12 months. I've watched my parents, my sister-in-law (brother's wife), my siblings' friends and some family members (aunts, uncles, cousins) experience grief since 1988. My sister-in-law still grieves 30 years later. My parents never stopped grieving either. You create ways to camouflage your loss and move forward despite your heartbreak. Time does heal the wound. For some people, depending how and who they lost, their grief process gets stuck and it lasts much longer than 12 months.
I'm still grieving the loss of both my parents (2016 & 2017). Losing my mom brought a flood of grief from 1988. Hurricane Harvey type flood of "grief-loss". Just now waking up and surveying the damage. I was sometimes mean to people since November 2017: angry, full of rage, or depressed, sad, lost. Thought I fully processed my siblings' murders from 30 years ago. Parts still remained unresolved. Especially related to my parents: can't remember if I told them how much I loved them, respected them, admired them. How the murders were not their fault; how proud of them I always was - because they bucked up, showed strength, courage and helped so many grieving parents find same courage to fight for crime victims' rights. Mixture of regrets, self-pity, loneliness, prayers unanswered. Plus the "normal" quicksand you walk on - when grieving one person. Grief is complicated. Don't judge the grieving and don't judge yourself if you are grieving.
(10) You can ask the grieving "how can I help you through this?" but don't expect a direct answer. He/she may not know. It's probably new territory for the grieving person. Just as it is for you. Be mindful of their vulnerability. Be mindful of yours. Speak from the heart. Pay attention to them more than yourself.
Scene from movie "A Little Bit of Heaven" speaks to this point. Toward end of movie, Treat Williams (actor) asks his daughter Kate Hudson (actress) "tell me how I can help you. I just want to help you." Her reply "I can't. I hoped, as my father, you'd just know how." (paraphrased)
The next 60 seconds of the scene are priceless. Reminding us: being vulnerable is not a bad thing. Speaking from your heart is never a bad thing. Putting your ego on a shelf, using your heart and soul energy, fully listening to the other person, open to outcome without expectation nor judgment: that's when miracles, forgiveness and true intimacy happens.
Wishing you love, warmth, compassion, understanding and patience as you help others grieve.
---Robin, The Sedona Spirit Psychic