Suggestions for Helping the Bereaved
We must be very careful with the emotions of a grieving person. If a family member or a close friend had major surgery, think of how patient and kind we would be in helping them recover. The emotional impact of bereavement can be similar to the distress experienced following major surgery and merits no less time, patience and understanding, often indeed much more.
In today’s world the pace of life, as we know it, is very fast. Quite often within a few weeks of death one is expected to be ‘back to normal’. Often there is no talk of the death, the funeral or the deceased. It is as if it never happened. This can be very distressing for the bereaved and can be a common occurrence.
Do not expect a grieving person to be able to do something new immediately. You hear people saying “Take a break”, “It will do you good to get out” or “Join a club or a class”. Usually the bereaved person has little interest in doing anything. To get up each morning and cope with their normal duties is a huge effort. In the early stage they need support, space and understanding.
Do not be upset if your offers of support are rejected. Close family and friends are often understandably hurt by rejections. Because they are close to the bereaved they are often the target of misdirected anger by the bereaved person. Try to understand this and do not withdraw your help.
Do not offer platitudes. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing. If you say to someone who has lost a baby that they are young and can have other babies; or to someone whose partner has died after a long illness that the deceased is better off now, they can feel very hurt and angry. We often use these types of statements to help ourselves cope with death. A handshake, a hug, a note sent or some small gesture is much more acceptable.
“What will I do if he/she starts to cry”? Again, just be there. Often when a bereaved person doesn’t cry they are regarded as strong and in control. Usually it can mean that they are suppressing their emotions for a variety of reasons. This can be especially true for men who might feel that they have to be strong. Men, like women, feel sadness and all other emotions associated with loss and they ought to express these feelings to enable them to move on with their grief.