Cross-culture difference tips for helpers:
In today’s world many of us are multi-cultural in a number of ways. You may find yourself interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds through work, church, clubs, your kids’ schools or even where you live. It would be presumptuous to conclude that all people grieve the same. All humans grieve, but how they do it can be based on teaching, religion, worldview or their own observations. Even if you disagree with their methods of grieving, the early mourning process is not the time to criticize them or to educate them to what you consider a better way. Your best plan would be to simply help them grieve well and then be open to help them if they have questions about their own perspective versus yours at a later, less emotional time.
I traveled to a very remote part of central Brazil visiting missionary outposts. While there, I witnessed two different approaches to grieving. The first one happened in the semi-civilized tribal village of the Karaja. One of the tribal elders had crossed the river in his six-foot, standup canoe to drink beer in the town bar. Late at night, on his return attempt to home, he fell in the river and drowned. I arrived on the village side of the river shortly after they pulled his body from the muddy water. I observed that no one was weeping. Many were whispering, but there was no deep emotional expression. They just did not do that there. The only emotion revealed seemed to be a worried look on the faces of a few women as they held a clinched fist to their mouths.
A few days later, back across the river in the small Brazilian town, I witnessed another death scene. There in the sun-drenched town a processional of kids dressed in white were accompanying a small coffin. I asked the missionaries to explain what I was seeing. They informed me that a child under the age of two had died and was being buried that day. No adults walked with the coffin. In fact, the child probably had no name. The town’s people believed that a baby did not have a “soul” till about age two so the baby was not considered a real person until then, when it was given a name. Since, in their minds, this infant was not a real person, no adults bothered to mourn for its loss, not even the parents.
The concept of grieving a loss due to death often can be affected by the cultural perception about death itself. This varies from country to country as well as from sub-cultures within those countries. Finlo Rohrer published an article in the BBC News Magazine (2010) entitled, “How Much Can You Mourn a Pet?” In it, he admits, “The UK has what is seen by many non-Britons as a slightly repressed attitude towards death.” Other European countries tend to have reputations for emphasizing death (i.e. the vampire stories).
THE GROUP EFFECT
Grief in a culture grows from a society and belief system that prizes and cultivates individual experience. Some languages have no equivalent to the term grief. In parts of Japan, the concept of emotions that are solely expressed on the part of an individual are not common. In those societies, individual identity is a function of social and communal harmony. A harmonized atmosphere as part of a family or community is sensed among the members. Personal grief is therefore more of a shared event.
In some traditional Chinese cultures, death presents the problem of pollution as understood in terms of their religious world view. One of the purposes of funeral rituals is to protect the men from that pollution, while on the other hand the women take the pollution on themselves. In turn, this practice results in purifying the deceased for the next life. Other than mourning, any other practices revolving around death would seem to be culture-specific. Death presents pollution or powerlessness in some cultural contexts as much as it presents separation, loss and sometimes trauma in the modern West.
THE INDIVIDUAL EFFECT
Western individuals, on the other hand, who successfully come to terms with a traumatic death, may change how they think about themselves, how they relate to others, and how they view life in general. As our world changes and becomes more of a worldwide community, so views on death evolve. Changes experienced by individuals in other cultures might be just as wide-ranging but cover spheres not experienced in the West.
When something important happens in individuals’ lives, they do not just think about it; they talk about it with others. Grief and mourning do not just happen inside a person; they happen in the interactions between people. In most cultures throughout human history, myth and ritual provide the intersubjective space in which one can construct the meaning of the deceased’s life, death and influence over the survivors’ lives. Understanding these concepts can give direction in how to talk to the bereaved. Conversations about the definition of the relationship lost can validate the lost life and aid the mourner in processing their own pain of loss.
One cross-cultural project sought to compare the rules about the emotional expression of grief. Anthropologist Unni Wikan, for example, compared the rules in Egypt and Bali, both Islamic cultures. She found that in Bali, women were strongly discouraged from crying, while in Egypt women were considered abnormal if they did not incapacitate themselves in demonstrative weeping.
Asking a grieving friend from another culture what their traditional methods are can be one way to show concern and empathy. This gives you a chance to at least acknowledge their hurts whether they are the same as yours or not.
The traditional Jewish culture found in the Old Testament of the Bible had many practices continued in many places today. Even though their existence revolved around their God, the expression of grief in the time of severe loss revealed their human experience. Weeping, a primary indication of grief, was referred to a great deal. Time (30-70 days) was set aside to mourn deeply. The physical appearance of the mourners was altered to indicate their condition. Ashes or outer garments often symbolized a grieving heart. The realization of the gift of the presence of friends and family regularly induced comfort. (The Holman Bible Dictionary, 1991)
Judaism today calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.
LIVING IN ANOTHER CULTURE
Cross-cultural effects on how one mourns also come in other packages besides historical traditions. Families living abroad, outside of their home country and culture can be very confused about the mourning process. Jonathan Trotter addresses this confusion in his article “Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised” (December 22, 2013):
Living abroad is an amazing adventure, but it comes with some baggage. And sometimes, the baggage fees are hidden, catching you by surprise, costing more than you planned. You thought you had it all weighed out, you could handle this, squeeze right under the limit.
But then it got heavy. Your new friends moved away, or your child’s new friend moved away. Far away. Like other continents away. And your kid’s broken heart breaks yours.
Someone died and you didn’t get to say that last, fully present, goodbye. Family members celebrate a birthday, or the whole family celebrates a holiday, and you’re not there because the Pacific’s really big, and you’re on the wrong side of it.
Or your child can’t remember her cousin’s name, and she doesn’t even know that’s sad.
Facing the subject of death and life beyond often brings out the definition of one’s “worldview.” Some individuals and cultures see death as final with no existence beyond. Others think that following death one is simply in a spirit world quite different than our own, which interacts with ours. Still others view life after death as a paradise existence that is very similar to our own, but unimaginablys better. Many hold to the concept that a judgment or evaluation of one’s life follows death and that either reward or condemnation awaits each person who dies. A large number of the world’s cultures and religions hold that a person immediately faces God in some way upon their death.
I have noticed that it is not uncommon for the bereaved to default to what their worldview is only to have questions about it. If they request it at this point, you can take the opportunity to help them answer and adjust their worldview where they have confusion. However, unless asked, you will be the most help to them by addressing their pain of loss.
But being aware of one’s worldview can help you choose what to say. If they believe that death is the end of existence comments like, “Your loved one is in a better place.” will be of no comfort. However, a comment such as, “Your loved one has no more pain.” may help more.
Worldview is often influenced by religion. Understanding a griever’s religious views can be a big help in your knowing what to say, or not. The beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, for example, hold that the state or even future of a departed soul can be affected by intercessory prayers. Comforting folks who cling to this hope for their lost friend or relative can be more effective by you emphasizing the bereaved person’s current pain and not saying things about the state of the departed.
Other religions such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, view the state of the deceased to be in a form of unconsciousness until some future resurrection. Many Judeo-Christians believe the departed is instantly transported to the presence of God in a “heavenly” state of paradise. In making comments to these folks about their one lost, you should be politely aware of these beliefs. Again, remember that your role is to aid them in processing their grief and not to change their religious beliefs unless they specifically ask for your opinions on the subject of life after death.
Members of Islam believe that any form of suffering, including grieving, is a result of the griever’s sins in some way. Their Prophet Muhammad declared: “By the One in whose hand is my soul (i.e. God), no believer is stricken with fatigue, exhaustion, worry, or grief, but God will forgive him for some of his sins thereby — even a thorn which pricks him.” (Musnad Ahmad, You-Tube) So, you may aid such a person with words of assurance that will help them deal with guilt that may be unjustified. Physically showing grief with the bereaved would be in order, however, Islam discourages very loud crying and wailing at funerals. During the mourning time after a death, mourners expect to have visitors. Be sure to pay a physical visit to your Muslim friend within days following their loss.
In the case of Buddhism and Hinduism, the deceased is believed to be on a path to being re-born again in another physical life. Helping such a one cope with their grief could revolve around assisting them celebrate their loved one’s life. Emphasizing the accomplishments and good traits in the form of scrapbooks and photo displays can bring inner comfort to the griever.
The “Why?” question is a common expression 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.
When that question 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 of 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. Sensing your authentic caring is more help to them than a long prepared speech. Polite awareness of their worldview or religious persuasion will be helpful in aiding their grief.
« Point to Ponder »
Comments that imply a judgmental nature are of no comfort to the bereaved.
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Special help when aiding those who lost a spouse through death
I attended a stress management seminar in Detroit many years ago. During that seminar I learned that on a national average the top two highest stress-producing events were public speaking and the death of a spouse. During the months following Ruth’s death my reading included information on dealing with the loss of a spouse. Among the statements about the importance of taking care of your own health while you grieved, the point emerged that among older people the possibility of the surviving spouse dying often increased by forty percent in the year following the loss. It is not necessary for anyone to be a statistic in the national averages. These facts do, however, emphasize the significance of losing a beloved spouse.
TO BE RECKONED WITH
The doorway to my bedroom seemed to jerk me to a sudden stop. Staring at the spot where I watched my wife take her last breath three weeks earlier, I melted into another uncontrolled sobbing session. My daily wandering around the house like a two-year-old child looking for a pacifier seemed endless.
This time I ended the emotional session by thinking of other deep hurts I had experienced. I perceived them differently now. My mom came to mind. Suddenly my situation seemed not so harsh. Wow, I thought, She really had life tough when my dad died suddenly! For my whole life I only could remember the difficult years surrounding my dad’s accident from my 11-year-old boy’s perspective. But now, through my own loss, my heart ached for my mom and I admired her in new ways.
I was the oldest of four kids the day of my dad’s accident. Mom was a young 30-year-old pregnant woman living in a home with no indoor plumbing and a pot belly stove that burned coal or wood for heat. Winter had only delivered half her force when our lives changed forever that sunny February day. My mother’s grief seemed to cause our lives to stop. She spent a lot of time in bed and only got up to give the minimum care for her four small children. One week after my dad’s funeral she delivered my youngest brother.
A week after Mom came home from the hospital with my baby brother, we got an unexpected visit from her dominating mother. She burst into our house unannounced. Upon her arrival, she found the house in a chaotic mess. Mother was in bed, as usual. It had been nearly a month since my dad was killed in the accident. The newborn at her side received all her attention at the expense of taking care of the house and the rest of us children. In retrospect, Mom’s behavior was understandable given all these circumstances. Unfortunately, Grandmother responded in a very harsh fashion.
“Get out of that bed and stop this right now,” my grandmother snapped. My mom had never crossed her commanding mother her entire life and she didn’t start then. She did what she was told physically, but she could not deal with her grief so easily. So, instead of going through the grieving process in a healthy way, Mom stuffed it down for the present but her grief didn’t stay down. The pain seeped out the rest of her life.
Difficult days for my mom continued that first year. With no husband, Mom still had a farm to manage. She had no clue how to do that and care for five kids. That spring and summer the neighbors came in force to help plant and then harvest a crop. However, she lost the farm and we had to move into the small town nearby. The only financial income Mom qualified for was government assistance. Three hundred dollars a month did not go very far, even back then. Very often, the money I got from mowing lawns supplemented to buy bread and gas.
This experience, along with the busyness of life, kept a raw place in my mother’s soul. I saw her pull out Dad’s picture and weep each time hard emotional events occurred. The most vivid one came during her divorce from the man she married three years after my dad’s death. Her healing had been aborted and she suffered for it for years.
Sadly, my mom died relatively young of a rare disease that could have been triggered by stress. In my judgment she suffered in many ways, because her grief was not processed well.
Sometimes circumstances and dominant personalities hinder some people from grieving freely. In many of these cases, having a friend or close relative who gives them “permission” to grieve can be a key to their victory. Instead of pointing out their strength or toughness, an honest statement about their loss and pain would be more beneficial to their long-term healing. A straightforward question such as, “Are you giving yourself time or permission to cry sometimes?” could be just the thing that helps.
THE CLOSER, THE LESS
Roz called me from Florida the other day. She was hesitant but asked, “Can I ask you a question about how to help a new friend of mine?” She explained that a new lady had just started coming to her Bible study who had recently lost her husband. Roz said she wanted to help her and not be a hindrance to her. Neither of us had a long time to talk so Roz asked me for a “really concise version” of what she needed to say or not say. I replied, “The general rule is: The more recent the loss, the less you should say.”
What that means is that the closer it is time-wise that the loss actually took place, the less you should say. If they lost their loved one that day, you say very little. Maybe one sentence like, “It must really hurt.” Do not try to solve their mourning issue with a long logic statement on how to look ahead, etc. However, if you are talking to them three months later, you might find they want to rehearse how their loved one died in vivid detail.
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, lost her husband in an accident. In a poignant personal post on her Facebook timeline June 3, 2015, she articulately expressed some things about her first month of grieving that demonstrate what I’m talking about with my phrase, “the closer, the less”:
I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear, “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”
THE ROLLER COASTER
Grieving the loss of a spouse is not an event; it is a process. This process can take one from emotional highs to deep grief without warning.
Judith stopped in her tracks and stared at the silhouette filling the doorway. Gordon (her husband) had died just weeks before. She and her sister were out shopping on a much-needed reprieve. Gordon had been six foot six inches in stature and built like “Mr. Clean.” The man in the doorway grabbed her attention. “Judith,” Marsha began, “Are you okay?” The swell of emotion engulfed Judith, right there in the clothing department.
Marsha’s response to this normal event in the healing process of a mourner was right on. She did not try to talk Judith down or out of the emotions that swelled up. She did not criticize her for expressing her emotions openly. Instead, she came along side and saw it as normal and healthy and just let her cry.
One of the common errors I have seen in those who are friends of the bereaved emerges when they see their friend show emotions and somehow think that it is not good, or a sign they are struggling. The common implication is that a lack of emotion signifies they are doing okay. This isn’t true. Public display of emotions can be a sign that the bereaved is freely working through the process and can be very “normal.”
I have received negative feedback from friends who witnessed my public expression of emotion. Some saw it as weakness, while others concluded I must not have been doing well. In fact, the opposite was true. I experienced added healing each time I had the freedom to express these sudden bouts of emotions. To deny someone this freedom of emotional expression could be a hindrance to their healing.
Author Jerry Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised explains it this way:
Giving myself to grief proved to be hard as well as necessary. It happened in both spontaneous and intentional ways. I could not always determine the proper time and setting for tears, which occasionally came at unexpected and inconvenient moments, such as in the middle of a college class I was teaching or during a conversation. I was surprised to see how inoffensive that was to others. If anything, my display of grief invited them to mourn their own losses, and it made the expression of sorrow a normal and natural occurrence in daily life. (pg. 42)
When this happens in your presence instead of saying something to try to stop their tears it would be better to say, “It’s okay. I know it must hurt sometimes more than others. I miss them too. Thanks for having the freedom to cry in front of me.”
TIME WELL SPENT
Understanding the depth of emotion a friend or relative is going through can go a long way in helping you know how to assist them in their journey. Often this can only be found out by spending time with that person and listening closely. You may even need to ask clear questions. A simple, “How are you doing?” will not produce a true picture. A better question may be, “Can you tell me about your up and down feelings today (or this week)?”
A friend of mine who lost his wife eight months ago wrote this to me. “I believe I am doing ‘well’ which might need some explaining. I still get blindsided by my emotions and, for what seems like no reason at all, I have a meltdown. The pain doesn’t seem as sharp and overwhelming as it has in the past, but it is there. Loneliness is hard to handle. A busy schedule helps, but a busy schedule doesn’t satisfy the need to talk and interact with a person of confidence. God knows these things and I am learning how to handle the different situations that come into my life.”
A listening ear and the right questions can provide needed information to you as you seek to be the best comforter to a friend or relative. Avoid statements of command that tell them to “Suck it up” or “Be strong.” Those only imply that stuffing their grief is the best, when that is not the case.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
I have noticed that, many times, the attention in loss tends to be directed towards the loved one lost. However, I’d like to suggest that one truly understands the depths of grief when it is realized that grieving needs to center around the pain of the griever.
“Your loved one has no more pain,” announced the attending doctor. This response to the death of a loved one is very kind when announcing their death. The blow of the news concerning immediate loss can even be softened more with consolation that the one who has died is better off in some way. However, as time passes, the pain that the griever is experiencing overshadows any trite consolation pertaining to the deceased. Their soul is hurting beyond belief. I remember feeling like there was a hole in my soul that seemed permanent.
Statements such as, “They are in a better place,” “It was their time to go,” “God loved them so much He wanted them with Him in heaven,” “It was God’s will for them to die,” or “They are happier now” put the emphasis on the wrong place and do not benefit the griever. Grief is not a result of the change in the condition or location of the dead. It is caused by the pain being experienced by the griever because of their loss. Acknowledging and addressing the pain of the griever can be of much more help in processing them through to victory.
I met Bob and Rachel years ago. Bob’s first wife had died suddenly a couple years before. By the time I met them, Bob and Rachel had just met. They soon married and were building a life of ministry together. Forty-one years later I got a letter from Bob saying that Rachel had died suddenly. I waited until after the three-week time frame to contact him because I knew that would be about when most people began to pull away and his need to talk would only increase.
The day we connected by phone was a Saturday morning. Some have asked me, “So, what did you say to him?” My answer is, “Very little. Mostly I just listened.” About the only significant thing I said to Bob during that hour conversation was, “When I read your letter about Rachel, it broke my heart.” Following his tears, he went into detail telling me everything surrounding her death. It was then I learned the startling news that Rachel had taken her life. It was obvious that he felt the need to unload the details that probably were tormenting his mind including the struggles he was having. I sensed a freedom in his spirit when he said, “Goodbye. Maybe we can talk again.”
I knew that I did not have to know what to say to Bob; I only needed to connect with his emotional hurts and let him talk through his experiences. Grief is an emotional issue, not a brain issue. Heart responses help more than logic statements at this point.
You don’t have to have a well thought out plan of logic to help the grieving. Simple concern works great.
It is well worth repeating here that loneliness, to most who have lost a spouse, soon becomes a huge hurdle that can last for years.
Loneliness is a very real part of the grieving process. Loneliness can be experienced in addition to missing the one who has died. 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. I found it to be suffocating. We all understand that we will miss the one whom we have lost. But, what about the oppressing loneliness that develops later? Many have expressed that, though missing their loved one was difficult, coping with the loneliness was more painful.
That being said, as you respond to those who have faced a loss, include loneliness as part of their experience in your thinking. This aspect can be easier to help them with since all of us have had bouts of loneliness in our lives. “How are you handling times of loneliness?” is a good question along with, “When can I come by during times you are commonly feeling alone?”
YOU DON’T KNOW
“Sixty-one years is a long time to be married to the same person — and then lose 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 improved following our talk.
Did you notice that I did not say anything like, “I know how you feel?” or “I know, I lost two wives!” Neither statement is helpful. I really don’t understand another’s personal pain, and she did not expect me to. She only needed me to empathize and acknowledge her pain. And comparative statements tend to shut people down. Too often, when we don’t know what to say to FIX their problem with grief, we feel we can’t help and so we shy away. Not so. Grievers need to be heard, not fixed, or out-done.
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Let the Bereaved Know You are Thinking of Them
Helping Others with Grief | By Chelsea
Following are some tips to let the bereaved know you are thinking of them:
1. Acknowledge their loss – It is important you tell them you know what has happened. You know the bottom has fallen out of their world. Phone them, text them, email them, write them, facebook them . It can be simply “Thinking of you” or “I am so sorry to hear about……..” You are acknowledging the importance of that person in their lives.
2. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who has died – even though the person is no longer on this earth, they lived. Their presence is all around the person grieving, in memories and personal items. They existed and will always exist for that person in some way. Saying their name is a gift and sharing a memory even more so.
3. Allow them to talk about how they are feeling – If they want to cry, let them cry. If they are angry let them be angry. If they are feeling guilty, as they very likely will, let them talk about that. All these emotions are a very normal part of grief. You don’t have to fix it, make it better, tell them it could be worse or anything similar. All you have to do is be there with them and listen without fixing. They just need a safe place to vent. If you can sit there and let a person cry their whole heart out without interrupting, just letting them be until the tears are spent, you are indeed a true friend.
4. Understand that there is no timeline for grieving – grief isn’t over in 3 days or a week. It is something that never ends in a sense. Over time there is an adjustment and adaptation to that loss, but there is no ‘getting over’ it in the literal sense. Therefore don’t expect them to be fully functioning in a week or two. Their whole world has been shattered. Some days will be better than others. Some days they won’t want to do anything and other days they will cry. Just accept if you can where they are and avoid being part of the move on brigade.*
5. Refrain from offering platitudes or comparing losses – whilst this can be helpful, in many cases it isn’t. Saying, “They are in a better place.” really doesn’t help someone who has lost the most precious person in the world. Especially if they are young, they want them here with them not somewhere else. There may be many other things you are tempted to say in an attempt to make them feel better. You don’t need to. Losses can’t be compared, the pain is still the pain. However comparing someone’s loss against your own may actually hurt more than help. If you want to show them you understand a little of what you are going through, you can say “I am so sorry. Whilst I don’t know how you are feeling exactly, I do understand what it is like to lose a loved one.” You have told them you too have experienced grief, which then opens the door. Remember you don’t have to fix it or take their pain away. Just be there and listen.
6. Keep in touch – so often there is such a flurry of activity after the death. Arrangements to be made, details finalised, paperwork to be completed. In the first few weeks there may be family around and frequent visitors. In most cases, people drift off after the first month. They have lives to get on with. This is the time when you can be much needed and appreciated. It can be a visit, thinking of you call or suggest going out for lunch. Often it can be the time when a lovely card or a single flower delivered to the door will touch their heart so deeply.
7. Don’t run away in the supermarket – avoidance can be a coping mechanism. This happened to me often or friends just dropped out of my life. It hurt so much at the time but now I understand why. They just didn’t know what to say or couldn’t deal with my pain. I felt at times I had the plague and they thought it might be catching. Just a few words, a touch on the shoulder can mean so much.
8. Include them in your life – grieving can be exhausting and the emotions of grief overwhelming. It is often difficult to cope with crowds or social circumstances. It just depends on the day. So if you have extended an invitation a few times and they have said no, don’t give up. Allow them the gift of time and the gift of spontanaiety. Often they may not know how they will feel until that day dawns. Understand also that whilst going out might be a welcome distraction for some, for others it is the last thing they want to do. Bringing a latte to the house might be just the thing. They might not even want that. Their own company is all they want right now. Respect them where they are at.
9. Know that the calendar is a big part of their life – birthdays, family celebrations, festive times of the year and the anniversary date of a loved one’s death can become very significant. It can be so thoughtful to make a note of these dates and be in touch in some way when the date arrives. Often years later, that anniversary date can still trigger some painful emotions. Also birthdays without loved ones are especially difficult and a big family Christmas with one person missing can be torture.
If you are still daunted, I would encourage you to do just one thing then. Send a card acknowledging their loss with a few personal words or a precious memory. That alone can mean so much.
Source of Article: Mareen Hunter.
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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. 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.
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Adjusting to loss seems to be a core issue in life. Whether it is the childish horror of a toddler losing their blanket or a child relinquishing their position as baby of the family to a new addition, loss requires confrontation. Every one of us will experience the emotional hurt from grief caused by the loss or death of someone or something they are close to. How do you cope?
My experiences with loss may seem like an unusual amount to some people. However, I’m reminded of the story about the man who was the sole survivor of the Johnstown Flood. During his life he bragged a lot about that distinction. Upon arriving in heaven he began his boasting until someone said, “So, there is someone here you need to meet. His name is Noah.” Yes, there will always be someone who has gone through more. So, I don’t waste time with pity parties.
As you will read, 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.
My experience of going through grief did more than temporarily affect my life. I became a student of what was going on in (not easy for this man) and around me. I observed how those around me reacted to the same event and how they responded to me. Few seemed to have any better grasp of grief than I had. The knowledge I gained from my research soon began to drive me to reach out and help others experiencing loss in ways no one did for me.
One of the dominant methods of dealing with grief and loss of others is avoidance. Our default ways of coping with grief tend to be to change the subject, stuff it down, explain it away, prevent grief’s symptoms or try to get over it or away quickly. Since grief feels so uncomfortable, sidestepping is our first reaction.
My studies of the grieving process showed me that grief was not only normal, but required. This also applies to those who make up a support circle around the griever. Grief is as natural as bleeding when you cut your arm and time and attention is needed to heal. Ignoring the cut can lead to infection, just like thwarted grief can cause issues in one’s life, whether evident immediately or later. Some cuts require the aid of others to properly deal with and often, grief is best processed with the help of friends or relatives.
I wanted to be that better friend to people in my life who go through the grieving process.
Then came the death of my second wife twenty-two years later. 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.
More than one friend admitted to me, “I didn’t know what to say.” When we’d talk and I explained to them what it was like in the grieving process and how I could have been helped, their responses were so positive. I sensed a deep compulsion inside me, “Don’t hoard your lessons.” Requests for written versions of my story and lessons mounted. 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. And just like First-Aid 101, there were things that could be learned.
My professional background includes that of being a teacher. You will find that showing through in the following pages as I share practical suggestions for dealing with varying kinds of loss. For the hurried reader, there are even lists that should be helpful. All this springs from the lessons learned through my experiences. It is true that those who are in the throes of grieving will find help in the revealing portrayal of my own personal grieving experiences. However, my dominant objective for writing my story is to help the rest of us be a better friend to those who are grieving.
David Knapp has given me a whole new insight on how to talk with a grieving friend or family member. He shares his experience with his own losses; he helps us to understand how we can be a better friend to those who are experiencing grief. How many times have I said to myself, I hate funerals because I just never know what to say to that friend or family member who has just lost a loved one?
Saying I am sorry for the loss just never seems to be enough. So I have found myself unconsciously avoiding that person because, I just didn’t know what to say. When I reflect back, how many times I have been guilty of saying to someone that their loved one is out of pain and is no longer suffering, or to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord was just so insensitive while trying to give words of comfort, I was jabbing at a fresh wound. Even though they may know their loved one is out of pain and with the Lord there is a huge whole in their life because of the missing loved one.
David Knapp has shown me that it is alright to talk about the deceased loved one, or to talk to someone who has just lost a job or a best friend, because loss of a career of friend can be just as devastating as loosing someone in death. It’s alright to just talk, because maybe all they need is for someone to listen. Grief is never an easy thing to deal with. I hardily recommend this book to anyone who has ever said or thought to themselves, I just don’t know what to say to a grieving friend or family member.
Carolyn A. Walker
Former Arizona State Senator
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