7 ways you can help someone going through a bereavement
1. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to see you, especially at first…It’s not necessarily a true measure of your friendship, it’s just that the intense pain makes anything and everything too much. Especially if you were someone that they used to see with the person they lost. Or you are currently pregnant and they’ve lost a baby. That’s just one example of something that may make it difficult to see you, there are lots of potential reasons you may never know or understand. Everyone and every situation is different. Some people want to be surrounded, others want to curl up under a duvet and resurface in a month or two. You must never assume that they would want to avoid you but be willing to accept it if they do because it won’t last, it’s just the self-preservation of a deeply wounded person.
2. Offer practical help…Avoid saying: “if there’s anything I can do let me know” unless you know the person will just ask. It’s good to be specific:
- Can I bring you a meal tomorrow?
- Can I pick your kids up from school this week?
- Can I take a bag of laundry?
3. Don’t offer more than you can truly cope with, which may be nothing! We all have busy times in our lives and though it’s good to make sacrifices for those in difficult situations we still have responsibilities. Be realistic and have a think about what you can do. This is to ensure you follow through. Don’t offer and not deliver, in that scenario it’s best not to offer at all.
4. Avoid clichéd consolations…This may feel like it goes against all your instincts but it’s OK to be silent. Feel free to just listen and to simply say “I’m so sorry.” If you say the cliché phrases you can cause the person to close up. Consolations can sometimes communicate “you don’t need to feel quite as bad as you do”. In my fiction writing, I’ve been learning how important it is to avoid using any clichés. When words are repeated they lose all meaning and consolations feel like that and can spark irritation.
5. Avoid comparisons to your own life or saying “I know how you feel”…We can never truly understand what a person is going through unless we can somehow transport ourselves into their body and brain and absorb their life history and how that has shaped them. It is again, something that can sound dismissive because it’s as if you’re saying “I know, I know, you don’t need to explain”, but how could you really know?
6. Don’t avoid speaking about the person they lost…This is a skill that we all need and use in various contexts: how to read a situation. If they are emotional and sharing their feelings with you; listen. If they are laughing and joking and talking about other aspects of life; do that too. If they keep bringing up the person by telling somewhat relevant stories; ask questions about them, share your memories too. Just be sensitive to the fact that they may reach their limit in any one of those scenarios. If you sense the mood change, they are no longer laughing, stop making jokes. All I’m saying is to practice some emotional intelligence and just as you might read the room, read the person.
7. Finally, don’t stop sharing your life with them…Someone may not have died but you may be going through a challenging time yourself. In the first couple of months after the death you may want to be very focused on them, which is doing them a great kindness. However, if they ask you about you (they may well want the distraction), tell them. Dumping heavily on them is unhelpful so turn to someone else perhaps for your biggest rant or for seeking advice. The reason you need to keep sharing is because it can feel almost offensive if a friend stops sharing their life with you because you’re going through a painful time. Your bereaved friend could feel more disconnected and lonely because vulnerability on both sides is what your friendship is built on. But also, it implies that they don’t care about anyone else’s feelings at this point, which isn’t true. Obviously, you are just trying to be helpful and considerate, but it is with incredulity that the bereaved may think: “don’t you think I love you still?”