Eight Practical Needs of the Recently Bereaved
The immediate reaction of people who lose loved ones may be temporary stupor, especially if the death occurred without warning. They feel helpless, frightened, confused and hurt. At such times, they rely on friends to help them in their grief.
Especially after the funeral, the sense of loss is intensified, and even well-meaning friends are unsure of what the bereaved needs most.
These following suggestions highlight areas in which they need practical help.
(1) Eating and Sleeping
It is not unusual for people in grief to neglect their health, which could cause their immune system to weaken. Here are ways to help:
- Inquire about their appetite and hours of sleep.
- Offer to prepare meals and make healthy drinks when they do not feel like eating.
- Encourage them to take their vitamins and food supplements.
- Without nagging them, make food available and offer to dine with them.
“There are several reasons that sleep is so important,” writes Dr. Linda J. Schupp in False Comforters.
“During the sleep process, anti-depression hormones are released into the system every two hours. Sufferers need the benefit of those hormones. They also need the advantage of the cortisol surge, which is an energizing awakening process that occurs in an average person after seven hours of sleep.”
(2) Physical Exercise
Many people in grief rely on antidepressants to help relieve their pain and stabilize their moods. The brands suggested by the National Institute of Mental Health include Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro which are known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Some of these drugs have adverse side effects including high blood pressure and sleep disturbance.
According to Michael Carrera, MSc. and Natasha Vani, MSc., ATCP on Truestar Health, prolonged exercise increases both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Seratonin regulates emotions while Norepinephrine helps regulate physical activity like appetite and sleep.
(3) Listeners, Not Talkers
Allow mourners the freedom to express anger, confusion or whatever they feel. Pay attention and affirm their feelings. If they do not care to speak, just share their silence. If their tears make you cry, they know that your sympathy is sincere.
There may be an occasion when telling your own story of dealing with grief is appropriate. Ask their permission to share. Do not monopolize the conversation. Remember that you are telling the story for their benefit.
(4) Regular Short Visits
The bereaved needs to rest, so they do not need visitors all day every day. They also need quiet times in which to sort and assess their emotions. Visits are more effective when they are short and frequent rather than lengthy.
For the person who lives nearby and can make a short morning visit, it may be all right to make a telephone call in the afternoon. If the distance of travel dictates a weekly visit, send a text message like “I’m thinking of you.” For the visitor who can only visit once, schedule weekly contact time. For example, plan to call or email every Tuesday. The grieving will be less prone to sadness while they are expecting a call.
Remember that the youth also grieve. They also can benefit from visits from their peers.
(5) Recognition on Holidays
Departed loved ones are missed most acutely during the holiday season. The bereaved might welcome the opportunity to observe the first Christmas and New Year after the loss in a different place or with different people. Extend an invitation to your home, or offer to join them at theirs. Do not turn the occasion into a memorial by focusing on the loss, but be sensitive because it hurts to be among friends who are not aware of your pain.
It would help for friends to mark the date and plan to send an encouragement card, or spend some time with the bereaved on the anniversary date of the loved one’s passing. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, and sometimes anger return and may last for weeks. Keep contact information for crisis hotlines handy, in the event that the bereaved becomes severely depressed and talk of joining the deceased.
(6) Pet Therapy
Sometimes, the grieving person may accept attention and comfort from a pet more easily than from other humans. Listed in Healthy Reasons To Have A Pet are the following:
- better psychological well-being
- preventative and therapeutic measures against everyday stress
- decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation
- increase in family happiness and fun
- and especially for the children, help in adjusting to the serious illness and death of a parent.
Offer to do the research for the mourner who is willing to obtain a pet for comfort. Locate the pet and get answers for the questions the new owner might want to ask. Most people prefer dogs, but a child may want a parakeet or gold fish. Whatever the choice, the pet helps the grievers to focus less on their own sorrow.
(7) Chores and Errands
During grief, there is loss of physical and mental energy. Everyday chores are neglected and some are completely forgotten. Because the bereaved may feel embarrassed to ask for help, offer. “Call whenever you need me.” does not sound as genuine as “I’ll come over for two hours every Friday,” or “I’ll stop by to see you for fifteen minutes on my way from work.” Sufferers feel better when they do not have to call.
Here are some ways in which you can help:
- For homes with children, offer to get their clothes ready for school
- Help them pack lunches.
- Help do the laundry including folding and putting away.
- Offer to help keep the bills paid and sort through mail dealing with financial transactions.
- Run errands to pick up prescriptions for family members.
- Drive them to doctor’s visits and keep note of the doctor’s instructions.
(8) Random Acts of Kindness
Suggest A Support Group
Comforting the bereaved lasts more than a day or a week. Gestures of love and concern are helpful for months after the incident—just so they know that they are not left to struggle alone. An occasional gift item is appropriate, not necessarily expensive, but thoughtful. Appropriate gifts are an invitation to dinner, a scheduled day or night out together, or a ticket to a concert. Dr. Schupp warns that bouquets of flowers could remind the bereaved of the funeral flowers, so unless they express love for a certain kind of flower, friends may want to select other gifts.
But gifts are not substitutes for love and attention. Give of yourself in genuine interest and companionship or in care calls. Look for ways to show your concern, and make the grieving know that the loved one who passed was only one in the number of people who love them.
© 2012 Dora Isaac Weithers