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It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.
You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference. But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.
While it’s true that you cannot “fix” the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practical ways you can support them in their grief-especially as the weeks turn into months and then to years.
Here are five practical ways to support grieving parents:
- Remember anniversaries and birthdays. Take note of the date our child left this life, his or her birthday, the day of the funeral-trust me, you aren’t reminding us of anything-we cannot forget! When someone else shares that they remember too it is so, so encouraging. It means my child is not forgotten, that he still matters to another heart and that someone else recognizes that the world lost a treasure.
- Keep showing up. Keep inviting me to lunch. I may have turned you down a dozen times in the first few months, but that was because I just. couldn’t. do. it. As my heart begins to comprehend my loss, compassionate companionship sounds more inviting. I need to talk, but it may take me awhile before I am able to do it. Please don’t give up-keep trying.
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Five Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Parent
Five Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Parent
Hacer una diferencia en su mundo por ser un mejor amigo
El duelo por cierto es un tema difícil de enfrentar. Para la mayoría de nosotros no atrae nuestra atención como un tema de que, naturalmente, queremos ser un experto. Sin embargo, manejar la pérdida es una parte natural de la vida. Porque usted ha leído este libro, está por delante de muchos de sus colegas y familiares en su habilidad de manejar el duelo.
Saber qué decir o no decir, viene a menudo a través de una mejor comprensión del proceso de duelo. Tal comprensión no siempre tiene que ser obtenida a través de la experiencia personal. Podemos beneficiarnos de la experiencia de otros dispuestos a ser honestos acerca de sus sentimientos y de su camino después de una pérdida.
Espero que las experiencias y observaciones recopiladas en este libro han aumentado su conocimiento del proceso de duelo. Ahora está más hábilmente equipado para ser un mejor amigo a quienes le rodean que experimentan pérdidas. La mayoría de nosotros encontrará al menos una persona dentro del próximo año que tendrá que procesar algún tipo de pérdida. Quizás puede ser usted.
Los comentarios de consuelo, no deben orientarse a “arreglar” el problema de duelo del afligido. Normalmente, muchas personas que no han abordado el proceso de duelo intentará evitarlo cuando se enfrentan con el duelo de los demás. El duelo no puede ser arreglado, necesita ser procesado. Por lo tanto, la primera cosa que podemos hacer es reconocer el dolor en vez de intentar hacerlo desaparecer rápidamente.
El duelo es el reconocimiento emocional de la pérdida. Se trata principalmente de un problema de corazón, no un desafío de la mente. Los comentarios de corazón van más lejos para consolar al afligido en vez de comentarios de cabeza en las etapas tempranas. Explicar el duelo lógicamente hace poco de calmar el dolor en el corazón. La lógica mental puede desempeñar un papel en el proceso a largo plazo de la pérdida pero se queda corto cuando el dolor importante del momento es emocional.
Los dolientes son sensibles a comentarios sin apoyo que parecen minimizar su dolor. El duelo viene de la profundidad de nosotros. Negarlo o disminuirlo puede ser percibido como una crítica personal. Tales implicaciones pueden causar la culpa y el retiro por parte del afligido y ser un obstáculo a su capacidad para procesar su pérdida victoriosamente. Permitirle llorar, le apoyará mejor.
Evitar a los afligidos socialmente, o evitar el tema de su pérdida, asfixia su proceso de duelo. El duelo puede ser el proverbial “elefante en la habitación” con los afligidos. Se sienten aún más que sus amigos. Excluirlos de los eventos sociales y las conversaciones sólo acentúa su dolor. Evitarlos no suaviza el dolor para ellos. Para eliminar el tema de sus experiencias de duelo y la persona que han perdido es ignorar la cosa más importante que está sucediendo en su vida. Los buenos amigos no hacen eso.
Evite los límites de tiempo. El establecimiento de un límite de tiempo de cómo y por cuánto tiempo una persona tiene permiso para hacer el luto por una pérdida puede ser humillante para el afligido. Pueden sentir que usted está siendo irrespetuoso hacia su pérdida o su ser querido. Sea consciente de los momentos oportunos en palabras de consuelo. Usted necesita ser perceptivo en saber cuándo hacer algunos comentarios al afligido. Ser un mejor amigo se centra a escucharle y apoyarle en su camino, en lugar de limitarlo.
Los dolientes no están buscando comentarios lógicos de decirles qué hacer. Lo que necesitan es un ser escuchado. A nadie le gusta recibir “mandatos” bajo las mejores circunstancias. Dar “mandatos” a una persona que está de duelo en un intento de “convencerle de superarlo” sólo le aísla de usted como una persona sin ayuda eficaz para su dolor. Frases instructivas deben estar bien sincronizadas y presentadas en forma de sugerencias o ejemplos. Los afligidos necesitan ser escuchados más que recibir mandatos.
Las lecturas teológicas rara vez son de gran alivio para el dolor de duelo nuevo. Los argumentos teológicos en el momento de la pérdida pueden ser malinterpretados como un regaño. Esto puede parecer un rechazo y no una forma de consuelo. Las creencias religiosas a menudo son abrazadas en la mente a través de la puerta lógica. El dolor emocional está raramente aliviado por esa avenida. De nuevo, el momento oportuno puede ser muy importante si este tema debe ser abordado.
El consuelo para el afligido necesita tratar más de su dolor personal que la persona que el afligido ha perdido. La tentación es muy fuerte para hablar más de la persona o cosa perdida, que de las necesidades del afligido. El problema más profundo es el dolor emocional interior. Los comentarios lógicos de la persona o la cosa perdida pueden ayudar. Sin embargo, si no hacemos caso a la angustia que experimenta, no podemos ayudar a nuestro amigo a resolver su camino efectivamente.
Los comentarios que podrían interpretarse como una actitud crítica no son de consuelo para el afligido. A nadie le gusta que le digan que está equivocado o tiene la culpa de la pérdida. Los afligidos suelen hacer frente a la culpa en el flujo normal del proceso. No les ayuda agregar la culpa a su dolor. Ellos están en un momento muy vulnerable en su vida y usted debe escoger sus palabras cuidadosamente.
Es común para que el amigo comprensivo sienta una cierta incomodidad, pero esto no debería ser un obstáculo. Recuerde que sus palabras de consuelo necesitan centrarse a los sentimientos del afligido. Muchos de los comentarios de “qué no decir” soltaron abruptamente de personas que sentían incómodos con sus propios sentimientos. Es útil quedarse lejos de declaraciones que comienzan con, “Yo siempre digo” y “usted debe.” Mantenga su atención en el estado emocional de su amigo.
Reconocer el dolor presente del afligido tiene más valor que los intentos de empatizar por comparar con sus pérdidas pasadas. La tendencia “sacar la ventaja” a un afligido en un esfuerzo para compadecerse con él normalmente resulta en un juego de comparación que puede disminuir el dolor del afligido. Asimismo, ya que cada persona llora de manera diferente, no suele ser beneficioso hacer comparaciones, sino simplemente tratar de entender la experiencia del doliente.
Saber la cosa correcta de decir es sólo la mitad de la responsabilidad de ser un cuidador emocional comprensivo. La otra mitad se centra a la acción. Estoy muy agradecido a la gente en mi vida, que no sólo sabía qué decir, pero cumplió con acciones de apoyo. Muchos de mis amigos y familiares estaban activos el día y las semanas después de la muerte de cada una de mis esposas. Otros me llamaron meses después para invitarme a dar un paseo y hablar, o salir a comer. Mi familia hablaba abiertamente al uno con el otro y a mí sobre sus recuerdos de mamá y cuánto les faltó ella. Unos conocidos me pidieron muchas veces a hablar públicamente acerca de mi camino de duelo.
EL RESTO DE LA HISTORIA
La vida continúa. La mía ha progresado en estilo fino. La evidencia de que he “practicado lo que predico” del proceso de duelo se ha hecho obvia en los desarrollos de mi vida más allá de mi período de duelo. Yo soy prueba viviente de que las sugerencias que usted ha leído en este libro funcionan y tienen mérito.
Yo documentaba los puntos de progreso en el proceso de curación y de duelo por escribir un “informe de progreso” para mis hijos. Este diario público sirvió como una herramienta de enseñanza para la familia en el duelo y un registro de victoria para mí.
Al año siguiente de la muerte de Judith, después de mucha re-definición de quién soy, mis emociones y mi enfoque en la vida comenzaron a fijar en un nuevo nivel. Mi visión para escribir este libro fue establecida. Recibí una nueva descripción de trabajo en mi carrera. Me mudé de la casa donde murió Judith. Con la ayuda de una de mis hijas, creé un perfil en el sito de web Christian Mingle.
Cada uno de los desarrollos nuevos sólidos en mi vida fue posible porque mis emociones tenían tiempo suficiente para llorar totalmente por “inclinarme” al proceso y por tener el permiso de los que me rodeaban para hacerlo con su apoyo.
Muchos de estos cambios me han dado una vida nueva, plena y de propósito. Primeramente, conocí a Crystal Wacker. ¡Que dama! Ella ha entrado en mi vida con el amor y el ingenio que iluminan cada día. Nuestro matrimonio ha completado mi vida a un nivel completamente nuevo. Su apoyo para mí en los desafíos y logros de la vida ha sido invaluable. Además de su trabajo continuado como editora de la Revista Reach UP, ella me ayuda en mis escritos y charlas.
Estoy seguro de que mediante la información contenida en este libro usted ha adquirido algunas ideas sobre cómo ser un mejor amigo a un afligido. Y les animo a hacer una diferencia en las vidas de los amigos que han sufrido pérdidas. Si desea compartir este material con un círculo mayor de influencia, estoy disponible para hablar en conferencias, reuniones y capacitación de los empleados.
Spanish edition to come soon.
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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.
BY Marty Tousley; Grief Healing
Adults are amused at the childish horror of a toddler losing their blanket. Parents smile when they anticipate that the two-year-old is not going to like giving up being the baby of the family when the new baby arrives. Yet Adjusting to loss is a fact of life.
Beginning with the loss of the safe, warm environment of the womb until the news that one will soon lose their physical life, our journey contains various levels and degrees of loss. Nobody really wants to experience loss, pain, heartache, disappointment, grief or mourning. The truth, however, emerges that they are all a part of human existence. These things will happen to all of us at some point.
The bigger question concerning loss that we all encounter on a regular basis is, “What do you say to a friend or loved one when they experience severe loss?”
Most of us have a cliché or two that we blurt out in a nervous effort to get the moment over with. Unfortunately common statements like, “They are in a better place” or “I know how you must feel” really don’t do much for the pain the griever feels. I learned from personal experience that few would-be comforters are comfortable with helpful statements like “Your heart must really be hurting right now.”
My first devastating encounter with grief came through the death of my wife. I was in my late 30s, administrator and teacher at a college and parenting four young children. I didn’t know a human could hurt that much. It was all so new to me and I had no idea that some of my viewpoints about deep mourning were so off base. The “hole in my soul” haunted me.
In desperation I became a student of grief. And along the way I discovered that understanding a few of the basics about the grieving process (i.e. a broken heart) could help others know what to say to those who were encountering one of the many losses life throws at them.
Grieving is not only normal, it is essential. This knowledge applies to those who make up a support circle around the griever. Suppose you cut your arm. It bleeds. Loss is a cut and grief is the natural result. A cut requires time and attention to heal. It may need another person to help care for it. Ignoring the cut can lead to infection. Similarly thwarted grief can cause issues that will surface sooner or later. And grief is best processed with the help of friends or relatives.
Just like First-Aid 101, there are things that can be learned. Good friends need to understand that the list of losses that merit being classified as “grievable” is much larger than many would admit.
One of the dominant methods, which is vastly ineffective, of dealing with grief and loss is avoidance. Our default ways of coping with grief by changing the subject, stuffing it down, explaining it away in a feeble effort to prevent grief’s symptoms hurts the griever more than you realize.
Beware of implying that a mourner should “snap out of it” too quickly. “This is behind you now,” and “It’s time to get on with your life,” are both comments that fall into that category. Prematurely stated observations to that effect can do more harm than good. Likewise, opinions that begin with “you should” or even “you will” are not helpful. Transparent statements resonate with grievers: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.” Listening closely to the bereaved within the first year of a loss can reveal what comments will help them most.
Most people mistakenly think the mourning process is purely an emotional condition, ignoring that it is a physical condition as well. We tend to accept that dying happens among the elderly every day. But it is also true that if you are married, it WILL happen to one of you, eventually. My case is unusual because it not only happened during my younger years, it came again twenty-two years later, when death took my second wife.
The lessons I had gathered from my first wife’s death were unavoidably refreshed. My notes and observations took on a deeper, more refined form.
One close friend admitted to me, “I didn’t know what to say” following months of unexplained silence. Others were just obviously ill-at-ease. But when we’d talk and I explained what it was like in the grieving process and how I could have been helped, their responses were receptive. I began to see that most people, whether friends or family or in professional capacities, really did want to connect with a person in grief, but fear, ignorance or verbal clumsiness held them back.
I sensed a deep compulsion inside me, “Don’t hoard your lessons.” Requests for written versions of my story and lessons mounted. And my friend’s awkward admission became the title of my book, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY: Being a Better Friend To Those Experiencing Loss.
(Dr. David Knapp is the founder of Grief Relief Ministries and is a national conference and seminar speaker. He has served as a college professor and president, and has been a personal counselor. Dr. Knapp and his wife Crystal live in Mesa, Az. He can be reached for a booking at 866-596-0470 or through his web page. His book can also be ordered online. www.griefreliefministries.com/book )
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WHAT TO SAY
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Taken from the book by David Knapp, I Didn’t Know What to Say: Being a Better Friend to Those Who Experience Loss, 2015. For a better understanding as to why the comments in black are more helpful than the statements in red, get the entire book at www.
Your loss is a very difficult thing to go through, I am sure.
Get a grip!
I will always remember him/her.
I don’t want to talk about the dead. Let’s talk about the living.
Do you need someone to go with you to choose a casket or marker?
I know what you are going through. I lost a kitten once.
Can we go for a walk on Sunday afternoon and chat?
You need to take your mind totally off your pain.
Tell me something special about your early days with him/her.
You should be thankful he/she is out of pain.
It’s so good you have the freedom to cry/express your feelings.
You need to get over this.
No, you are not crazy. You are grieving and it is okay. This will pass.
I know EXACTLY how you feel.
I realize this must be hard for you.
Call if you ever need anything.
So, how are you feeling today?
Let me tell you what you need to do.
I understand that you feel the way you do…and it is okay.
You can’t bring him/her back. God is in control.
Can I help you find others who have had a similar loss?
This happened because God had something/someone better for you.
Can you join our group for dinner this Friday?
Call me sometime.
His/her memories are a legacy of love.
You need to let go of him/her so you can start living again.
Are you up for a chat now or next week?
You look great. You must be over it.
Thanks for having the freedom to talk to me about your feelings right now.
How are you holding up?
Here is a favorite memory I have of him/her.
So now you are all alone. What a shame.
You made the right decisions surrounding his/her death.
At least he/she is not a vegetable.
Can I call you on an anniversary that is important to you?
You need to get all his belongings out of the house as soon as possible.
Can I come by and get your grocery list on Friday?
You are not making sense. Snap out of it.
Can I come by and help clean on Tuesday?
How does it feel to have survived his/her death?
You should be thankful it wasn’t worse.
Tell me about your child/loved one. What was he/she like?
Your child is in a better place. God needed another angel.
I miss him/her too.
You should be happy for the time you had with him/her.
You did all you could do at the time.
How are you ever going to forgive yourself?
I am praying for you and your family.
Well, at least you won’t have to potty train that child.
I have no idea of the depth of your pain but I am here for you.
You can always have/adopt other children.
You are lucky to at least have other children.
His/her memory will live on in my heart.
His/her time was up. His/her death was meant to be.
Can I take the kids to the zoo on Saturday?
(say nothing and avoid all contact)
I have been remembering you a lot lately and I love you.
You are lucky to have had them in your life for as long as you did.
I know he/she loved/relied on you a lot.
At least they had a good life.
He/she knew how much you loved him/her.
I understand your pain. I lost someone once.
You need to only remember the good and forget all the bad.
Your hurt must be big right now.
Grandpa is sleeping.
(say nothing but give a hug)
Keep your happy face on.
What was it like when…?
Life must go on.
I love you and am proud of you.
Now you are the head/leader of your house.
I loved him/her too and will miss him/her.
God needed him/her in heaven.
Can I help you write a letter about your loss/grief?
You must not speak ill of the dead.
You are the man (woman) of the house now…buck up.
I wish I had the right words. I just want you to know I care.
I don’t want to hear details. I just want you better.
Can I come by Wednesday evening to visit?
Wow. You look sad/awful.
I can’t take away your pain but I can be a friend.
You need to keep a stiff upper lip.
Have things happened to ease your pain?
I could NEVER go through what you are right now.
What have you done to deal with your grief/loss?
Now that she/he is dead, you should get a pet.
I was shocked to hear of your loss. I’m a friend who cares.
You must feel as bad as I did when…..
I am so sorry for your loss.
Just stay busy and you will get by.
Tell me about him/her.
You must stop crying. You might upset someone.
I feel so sad for you.
You must be strong for others.
What is something I can do for you this week?
He/she must have brought this upon himself/herself.
Your heart break must go deep.
You need to be alone when you grieve.
It breaks my heart to see you in such pain.
You need to stop feeling bad/crying.
I’m sure you cherish your time with him/her.
Don’t burden others with your feelings.
How have you been feeling this week?
He/she is with God now.
Is today a better day for you?
All things must pass. Time will heal.
I’m not sure what to say but I want you to know I care.
You will find another to replace them.
I can’t fix your hurts but I can be here for you.
You can’t fall apart.
Can I call you to chat on Saturday evening?
“What is done, is done,” I always say.
I am so sorry this is happening to you.
This is a blessing in disguised.
We have missed you lately.
I have had a bigger loss then you so I know it is not as bad as it could be.
May God bless you and give you strength and comfort.
If you had more faith, he/she would not have died.
What do you need most today?
God does not give us more than we can handle.
What would you like to say to him/her right now?
You need to forget about him/her and move on.
You must be hurting deeply.
He/she is in a better place now.
God mourns with those who mourn.
It is too soon to face your grief.
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WHAT TO SAY TO A MOURNER
The moment of greeting a mourner is indeed difficult. What are the words of comfort? Can I help to ease the pain? I want to express my condolences sincerely, but the words seem so inadequate. Or, perhaps I will say the wrong thing- something I intend to be well-meaning – but is received as hurtful?
WHAT CAN I SAY?
In the Bible, we learn from the example of three friends who come to comfort Job as he grieves for his ten children: “And they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. After this, Job began to speak…” (Job 2:12-13) Jewish tradition derived three principles of comforting the mourner from this text: BE THERE, SPEAK IN SILENCE and HEAR WITH A HEART.
If there is one fundamental message of Judaism about death and bereavement it is this: We are not alone. When a loved one dies, the
feeling of being alone is overwhelming. That is why the goal of Jewish comforting is to surround the mourner with a supportive community. Be there. Be there at the funeral. Be there at the shiva home. Be there during the difficult days, weeks, and months ahead. Without a word, your presence says “I am here for you. You are not alone.”
SPEAK IN SILENCE
Ironically, silence is often the most powerful language of all. It is perhaps the best way to begin a conversation with a mourner. A warm embrace, an arm around a shoulder, a sincere look, the sharing of tears together – these are the non-verbal messages to the bereaved that say more than a thousand words. Jewish tradition suggests that comforters say nothing until the mourner begins to speak. Let the mourner take the lead. Some will want to talk, to tell the story, to share their feelings. Some will not. Do not fear silence. Offer a hug, a hand, a touch that says “I understand. ‘I accept your feelings another way you are expressing them. Go ahead. I’ll be here for you.“
HEAR WITH A HEART
There is great power in presenting yourself to the mourning as an empathetic listener. Real hearing is silent – no interruptions, no judgments, no denials, no problem-solving – just hearing with the heart .
This is not easy to do. We all want to fix things. We all want to make things better. We all want to take the grief away. But we cannot. Nor should we try. For when we do, we often say the wrong thing:
“Time will heal. ”
“I know exactly how you feel. ”
“It’s probably for the best.” “Be strong.”
“What my mother went through when she died…”
“You’re young. You’ll have another child. ”
“It’ll be all right. ”
For most bereaved, it is definitely not “all right.” A loved one has died and the grief-work must proceed for the person to be psychologically healed. One of the most important gifts you can give to a mourner is the full, complete and non-judgmental acceptance of the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, no matter how explosive, no matter how “embarrassing,” no matter how much you wane desperately to reassure the mourner that things will be better. It is the mourner who must do the grief-work, not you. It is the mourner who must come up with answers, not you.
It is the mourner who must speak, not you.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY
You have come to the shiva home. You have offered your nonverbal greeting. Now comes the awkward moment when you have to say something. What can I say? Here are a few suggestions for opening a conversation with a mourner:
“I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.”
“I’m so sorry about your (mother; brother; etc. or name the deceased)”
“I don’t know what to say. This must be really tough for you.”
“I hurt for you ”
“(Name the deceased) loved you so much.”
“I hope you can hold on to the good memories.”
”Do you feel like talking?”
If the answer to the last question is “no,” suggest another time. Often mourners are too exhausted to talk. Or, they may be tired. of telling the same story over and over again. On the other hand, if they indicate a willingness to talk, you may want to ask a simple “What happened?”
As the mourner talks, keep in mind these suggestions for helpful conversations
Listen non-judgmentally. Mourners don’t want to be told their feelings are wrong.
Pay attention. Give your undivided attention. Try to get on eye-level with the mourner, establish eye contact, lean forward, hold hands, nod your head and use nonverbal expressions to encourage the mourner to continue the conversation.
Don’t interrupt. Give the bereaved all the time he or she needs to speak without jumping in to finish a thought or to hurry the
Don’t give rational answers. The death of a loved one cannot be explained away with logic.
Don’t compare experiences. Grief is not a competitive. The last thing a mourner wants to hear about is your loss. Some mourners do feel a connection with someone whose loved one went through a similar illness and death, but if you must speak of your loss, it’s important to qualify your comments with the statement, “I can’t know how you feel, but when my…”
You may also want to offer your help, but make a specific suggestion: “Can I bring dinner tomorrow?” is a much better approach than the vague “Is there anything I can do?”
Many of us have been in shiva homes where there was more talk about the news, sports and weather, more sharing of gossip and jokes, than memories of the deceased. We do this in part because we are uncomfortable with death and grief. But we also do this because we aren’t sure what is appropriate conversation in the home of a mourner.
The rabbis who created the Jewish approach to bereavement knew that there would be talk of death, but they also wanted talk of life. Specifically, talk of the life of the deceased. The eulogy at the funeral is designed precisely for this purpose – to stimulate a life-review and to conjure up memories of the loved one.
Those who seek to comfort can continue this process by sharing personal memories of special times with the mourner and the deceased: “I remember when you and your mother went with us to the theater…” Or, recall a favorite characteristic of the deceased: “I’ll never forget what a generous man your father was…” When the time is right, you might even share a humorous incident. The laughter, though bitter sweet, can be very therapeutic for the mourner. If you did not know the deceased, ask the mourner about photos or other mementos that may be displayed in the home.
Enabling the mourner to share these stories helps them crystallize and record fond memories of the deceased in the heart and mind. This is one of the major goals of the bereavement period. It is also one of the most comforting things we can do.
WHAT CAN I BRING?
When making a condolence call, it is appropriate to bring a token of your support. During the shiva bereavement period, it is customary for the community to enable the mourners to concentrate on their grief by providing for their sustenance. This explains why gifts of food are often brought to the home where the shiva is being held. Cakes and cookies are popular choices, although one should inquire about the level of kashrut observed in the home. A safe choice for any home is a fruit basket. Flowers, liquor and candy are usually considered too festive for a house of mourning. A meaningful and much appreciated alternative to food is to make a donation in memory of the deceased to a charity designated by the mourners.
WHAT CAN I WRITE?
Condolence letters are another source of comfort to mourners. The words of sympathy and memory are welcome reminders to the bereaved that you are thinking about them. A good condolence letter acknowledges the loss and names the deceased, uses words of sympathy that share your sorrow, notes special qualities of the deceased, recalls a memory about the deceased, reminds the bereaved of their personal strengths, and offers specific help.
~ What Can I Say / Words of Comfort was written by Dr. Ron Wolfson
Dr. Ron Wolfson is Vice President, Director of the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life, and William and Freda Fingerhut Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Judaism. He is the author of A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort in The Art of Jewish Living series published by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the University of Judaism (1994).
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