By Crystal Laiosa
Bachelor’s Student, School of Business
I was eight when I learned caskets also come in children’s sizes. My brother was four years old when we buried him from brain cancer.
There are no words I can conjure to describe the echo of my mother’s wails, the chartreuse color of the church pew liners or the way it felt so final. I remember that the silver lining was in the apple pie a church friend baked and the way the letter “y” curled when she penned “Warmly Yours” at the bottom of the sympathy card.
Perhaps you know someone who lost a loved one this year. Maybe you offered your condolences, or maybe you avoided the family when you saw them at the grocery store the next Sunday because you didn’t know what to say.
It’s all understandable. It’s not an ideal situation, and there’s nothing that can be done to reverse the tragedy, so why bother, right?
Wrong. There are many things you can do to comfort a friend or a relative who is grieving. Here are some dos and don’ts.
DO Have Patience with the Grieving
First of all, it’s imperative to understand that grief is not linear. It’s more of a maze with dead ends. No one processes grief in the same way.
For one person, grieving may take several months, while for others, it may take another a few years or even a lifetime. Some may never achieve a new normal.
Take your time with the person who is grieving, and never push for that person to “get out and try something new” or “do something fun like the old days.” Most likely, your friend doesn’t know how to process those feelings, and completing the smallest tasks could be overwhelming.
By all means, check in at regular intervals or drop that person a line to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Just be careful to walk the fine line of available versus pushy.
DON’T Ask for Details
Someone wise once said, “The fact that you don’t have closure is closure enough.” Do not ask your friend for details surrounding the death of their loved one. This practice is nosey at best and inappropriate at worst.
A family does not wish to answer any juicy details about their toxic family dynamics, and you’ll likely receive a valuable lesson in asking nosey questions. If the family wants you to know the details, you will be told the details. Otherwise, let it go.
DO Be Available
The best kind of help is the practical kind. During grief, the brain is inundated with processing the situation that has unfolded. In the simplest terms, there is little room for the brain to do much else than replay the loss.
Your friend may experience forgetfulness, anxiety, and fatigue, and this process makes everyday tasks difficult to complete. This is where you come to the rescue. Try something like “Can I collect the mail, make a bank deposit or do a grocery run for you?”
Naming a specific task to be completed releases the grieving from the burden of critical thinking. Remember, your friend may feel scatterbrained and most likely hasn’t eaten, slept, or washed laundry.
You could also bring someone a home-cooked meal, which could later be stored in a freezer. Not a cook? Order a pizza or start a meal train (with the family’s prior approval).
DON’T Give Unwanted Advice
The last thing a grieving person wants is to be one-upped in the grief department. Please don’t be that person. No one wants to hear about how your uncle got over the death of his dog, who was “just like family.”
Furthermore, saying things like “I understand how you feel,” “It was for the best” and “God has a better plan” are simply unhelpful during such a time. They may even be considered offensive, depending on the religious views of the grieving person.
Always be mindful of your words and the way they could be received. Be careful to put things delicately, as what you say could be misunderstood under the pressure of someone’s loss.
DO Stay Connected with the Grieving Person
The concept of staying connected is twofold. Sometimes, the grieving person doesn’t need you to do or say anything, but just to be around him or her is enough.
As the saying goes, “misery loves company.” Listen to your friend, and don’t feel the need to respond. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen. We all long to be heard.
Active listening is the first half of staying connected. So what’s the other? Consistency. Check in with your friend regularly.
It is typical for a family to be forgotten after the burial. But for a grieving family, the wound is still fresh. It is important for your friend to feel there is still someone in their corner. Just be there with your friend and remain silent, unless he or she feels like talking.