02 Feb What Do I Do Now?
What Do I Do Now – Comforting the Mourner:
Someone you know dies, and you find yourself instantly confronted with a plethora of emotions – you are sad, shocked, angry, confused. You want to help the surviving family, in fact you are desperate to support them through this tragedy, yet you feel utterly and completely helpless… paralyzed in the knowledge that you cannot FIX this… and, as such, the question becomes: What do I do now?
To begin with, it is important to recognize that everyone grieves differently; consequently, each person will go through a very different grieving process. Understand that a mourner’s reaction to grief will be dependent on a number of factors:
1. Their relationship to the deceased – how close the ties, the age of the deceased, etc.
2. The manner of death – A sudden death holds different challenges and reactions than accompanying someone through a long-term illness.
3. Personal factors – such as a person’s past coping mechanisms and how death and dying was addressed in their family of origin.
4. The griever’s support system – while they may have lost a loved one, who else do they still have?
Suggested ways to comfort the mourner:
- Allow for ALL expressions of feelings – feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. Simply offer space and time for the mourner to share their feelings with you – WITHOUT JUDGEMENT or directives about how they “SHOULD” OR “SHOULD NOT” be feeling.
- Identify the support systems available to the bereaved person/family. If the family is not close, then identify other “feel good” people in their lives that can help them feel connected and cared for.
- Respect religious beliefs – Regardless of what you personally believe or do not believe in – honor the needs of the mourners by supporting their need to stay connected or disconnect from religious institutions and rituals.
- Avoid “over-catastrophizing” – Grievers will often follow the lead of others. If you cannot handle the circumstances surrounding the death then perhaps find another way to support the family (through concrete tasks), rather than continuously breaking down in the presence of the individual/family.
- Recognize “secondary losses” – when a loved one dies, they do not only lose the person, they also lose the role of spouse or parent or child and/or caretaker and all the responsibilities that were associated with that role.
- Active listening – Encourage the bereaved to tell their story, repeating the story is part of the healing process. Conversely, respect their wish not to talk about the loss as well. Let them be your guide.
- Recognize “triggers” – keep in mind that dates, anniversaries or perhaps even a song, food or TV show – anything that might remind the mourners of the deceased – need to be acknowledged by saying, “This must be difficult for you” or “I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you”.
- Identify ways to honor the deceased – help support ways in which mourners can create opportunities to remember their loved one in THEIR OWN WAY – for example: create a fund for a cause they believed in, organize a community event, construct a memory book, plant a tree.
While we cannot take away the pain of the loss, we can accompany the mourners through the process with our understanding and support; sometimes simply being there is all they really need – “Grief shared is grief diminished”