Aiding well a friend or relative who is grieving may take a bit of understanding and observation. Among the many variables involved in the grieving person such as maturity level and relationship to the one lost, is the different styles of grieving. Seeing this about the bereaved can help you know what to say.
Instrumental mourners experience and speak of their grief intellectually and physically. They are most comfortable with seeking accurate information, analyzing facts, making informed decisions and taking action to solve problems. Remaining strong, dispassionate and detached in the face of powerful emotions, they may speak of their grief in an intellectual way, thus appearing to others as cold, uncaring and without feeling.
Beware of demanding they do it differently by saying things like, “Shouldn’t you be crying more?” or “I am concerned you are not mourning correctly.” Reaffirming statements such as, “I appreciate that you have taken care of that issue so well. I know your loved one would want it that way.”
Deciding what to someone during grief may take a bit of time but well worth the effort.
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Expression and closure are important for those who have experienced loss.
I had the opportunity to share my experiences and lessons of going through loss at a large men’s prison in southeastern California recently. The chaplain, who is a long-time friend, invited me to share with the “church” he was responsible for behind bars. It proved to be a wise choice.
Following my talk men began lining up to express appreciation and tell me their story. One was particularly impacting to me. A man with a pony tail was in line and when he got to me he was so moved he couldn’t talk. He stepped out of line for a moment. Finally his story came out. He had married his childhood sweetheart, gone to Viet Nam, came back with severe Post War Syndrome and she left him. Later in life he conquered the effects of the war and she returned. Now, since he has been in prison, she died and he never got to say goodbye, settle any outstanding hurts OR go to her funeral. I was the first person to come into his life who understood, by expression, his pain and it gave him release. He sobbed on my shoulder for the longest time.
You can be of great help to those you know by allowing them multiple opportunities to express their pain (not fix it) and even aid them in steps of closure.
With A Full Heart
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“61 years is a long time to be married to the same person, and then loose them,” Elaine said as she stared into space. “Wow,” was my response. “That is amazing and I can’t even imagine how it must feel for you now. The loneliness must be overwhelming.” “You’re right, it is,” was her confident reply. We went on to cover simple changes both she and I had experienced over the last year: buying food and cooking for ONE instead of two, learning to manage jobs our mates always did, and adjusting socially to being single. I noticed that her spirits and demeanor had improved following our talk. She was also glad to get her windows cleaned that I did for her.
Did you notice that I did not say anything like, “I know how you feel”? I really don’t and she did not expect me to. She only needed me to empathize and acknowledge her pain…not to fix it. So often I think if we don’t know what to say that will FIX their problem of grief, then we keep quiet. Not so. Grievers only need to be heard and not fixed.
Thanks for your continued interest in improving your ability to help the hurting.
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Loneliness is a very real part of the grieving process. This can be experienced in addition to missing someone who has died or even after experiencing the abandonment of a lost friendship. Thomas Wolfe puts it this way; “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human experience.”
This aspect of the grieving process is often overlooked by those not experiencing it. However, I found it to be suffocating. We all understand that we will miss the one who we have lost. But, what about the oppressing loneliness that develops later? I have heard many express that it was harder to cope with than the missing their loved one part.
So, as you respond to those you know who have had a loss include loneliness as part of their experience in your thinking. This aspect is easier to help them with since all of us have had bouts of loneliness in our lives.
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The “Why?” question is a common thing when anyone experiences a loss. Whether it is the loss of a job or the loss of a child in a custody case, the “Why?” issue can creep in or crash in. The emotional hurt from the loss can make a logical answer seem irrelevant.
We do need to be careful in assuming this question, however. I have been asked how I dealt with the “Why God?” question. The truth is that I did not struggle with it much. My life-long experiences of trust in God seemed to melt the severity of that concern.
When it does loom over the griever, be slow to assume you have an answer. Remember the one grieving is experiencing an emotional hurt and a logical reply may not be a help. They mostly need you to identify their pain and support them at this time. Don’t play God.
Genuine concern goes a long way in helping the bereaved. Knowing this is more help to them than a long prepared speech.
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