Helping People Deal with Their Grief
What to say and do for the grieving
Most people faced with comforting a grieving person are confused and afraid, afraid of saying the wrong thing or afraid of having nothing to say at all. This fear often leads to avoidance of the grieving person, which is the worst possible response. However, if this fear of saying the wrong thing leads to a certain amount of "tongue-tiedness," that can be useful.
Think back to the Old Testament story of Job. Job had lost everything. His family had died, his forturne was stripped from him, his livestock was gone, land barren, and his health had failed. Job was absolutely miserable, lost in grief and pain, sitting among the ashes. At this point in the story, three friends show up. At first they say nothing and do the simplest possible thing, they sit down with Job and support him in his misery with their presence. This is the example to follow when you wish to help a grieving loved one or friend.
When visiting a grieving person, it is best to simply be with them. Be present in the moment and do not shy away from them. Let this person know that you are there for him or her and will pray for them. Help them with the simple, everyday business that may be overwhelming them. Do not feel you need to make conversation (this is particularly hard for the gregarious), especially. Follow their cues in this matter.
There are several stages of grief a person must suffer. The first has been identified as numbness and denial, the symptoms of which should be self-evident. The second stage is yearning, which is an intensely painful longing for the person who has died. This period lasts for weeks and may be accompanied by searching for the dead, imagining seeing the dead person everywhere, and hallucinations in some instances also occur. The third stage is disorganization and despair, when longing ebbs, replaced by apathy or aimless behavior. A year after the loss, this stage often continues. Finally, reorganization begins to occur, where the bereaved individual begins to see hope in the future without the departed person. The grieving person needs to go through each of these stages to recover and to heal. Do not try to suppress the intense emotions of the grieving person in these stages. Do not expect someone to "get over it" in a short period of time. We live in a high speed society and expect quick recovery. Dealing with death does not work that way.
Returning to the story of Job, after several days, the three friends make a serious error. Being men (men have a deep seated desire to fix things and make them right) they became impatient with Job's continued grieving and started offering him explanations for his woes and suggested paths for recovery. This was exactly the wrong thing to do and should be avoided. Also, do not try to answer "Why" questions from the grieving person that arise immediately after the loss. These are rhetorical questions at this point and do not require an answer, in fact no answer will be appreciated at that point or wanted. Make the mistake of providing one, even a theologically sound one, and you risk getting hit in the nose for your efforts.
Visit the person regularly. If you are gifted with deep empathy, you may ask questions that will help the grieving person express their feelings and talk about their positive memories of the person lost.
These are some basic and simple steps you may take to assist a grieving person. Armed with a little knowledge and a lot of empathy you may be a blessing to the grieving person, a guiding light in a dark time and a steady shoulder to lean on and to cry on. Your assistance will be warmly remembered.
If you wish to know more, check the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling.
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