Tips for Helping the Mourner
Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something. Do something. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Be willing to not have any answers. Listen. Be there. Be present. Be a friend. Be love. Love is the thing that lasts. ~ Megan Devine
If this is your first encounter with someone in mourning, you are wise to do some reading about the grief experience, and to let go of some of the harmful myths you may have heard about grief and healing. Don’t assume that the person who seems to be experiencing little pain or sorrow is “doing well” with grief. Take some time to review your own personal experiences of death and grief, recalling who died, what was helpful and not helpful to you, and how you felt about it.
If any of the ideas suggested here don’t fit with a particular culture or tradition, or if they don’t seem to suit you or the person(s) you’re wanting to help, then simply ignore them and go on to others.
As soon as you learn that a death has happened, there are several things that you can do right away. For example, you can:
- Acknowledge the loss. Either in person, by telephone, or in writing, let the mourner know who you are, how you became aware of the loss and that you care.
- Attend the funeral: Say goodbye to the deceased and demonstrate support for those most impacted by the death. If possible, attend the visitation, funeral, committal, and gathering afterward.
- Let the mourner know if you found the ceremony especially meaningful.
- Assemble a funeral scrapbook for the family, which could include the obituary, funeral program, and room for cards, notes and other mementos.
- Arrange to have the ceremony video- or audio-taped; offer to review the recording with the mourner at a later time.
- Offer tangible symbols of support: a phone call, note, letter, comfort food, flowers or a potted plant, a hope-filled book, or a photo frame.
- Send flowers, a potted plant, hanging basket, bulbs, tree seedling, or perennials to place or plant at the gravesite.
- Contact the mourner’s network of friends and family and help them choose a way to help (check on the mourner, fix a meal, walk the dog, cut the grass, rake the leaves).
- Fix and bring a meal; include non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages.
- Initiate contact; invite the mourner to share what happened, with ample opportunity to tell you the story of the loss.
- Listen with your heart, with honest concern and curiosity, respectfully and without judging, without criticism, without giving advice, without being the expert with all the answers.
- Encourage, reflect, respond to and validate feelings, however they are expressed, and hold them in confidence.
- Be willing to listen to the same story, over and over again if needed, with mouth closed and ears open.
- Be fully and physically present: Allow sufficient time; listen attentively; don’t appear rushed; sit rather than stand; maintain eye contact and an attentive posture with your arms free and uncrossed; match the volume, tone and speed of your voice to the mourner’s; let the mourner steer the conversation; nod and affirm.
- Accept, permit and be present in times of silence.
- Permit yourself to cry, too. Your tears mingled with your friend’s convey what words cannot.
- Understand the uniqueness of grief: Everyone is different, shaped by our individual life experiences.
- Be patient. The grief process takes a long time; let the mourner set the pace.
- Recognize that although you cannot take the pain away, you can enter into it with your friend. You can remain available long after the death occurs, when your friend will need you the most.