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Helping Others with Grief and Loss

Updated on October 10, 2012

Grief and Loss - we don’t like to talk about this. Someone in our life is suffering by a recent loss and it is painful to see. It brings up all sorts of painful thoughts for us for us too. New questions arise in our minds about how we would handle this type loss, or when we might have to deal with it. But of course, I encourage anyone who has someone in their life that is dealing with grief to extend yourself out to them and give whatever you can to help.

Loss can come in many forms, but by far the death of a loved one touches our hearts the most and can certainly be the toughest to deal with. For those of us that want to help, sometimes we just feel helpless. Knowing what to say and do for these poor souls just eludes us. A person suffering a loss, such as death, divorce, or loss of job has just been separated from what they defined themselves with. One day they are this person with a spouse, boyfriend, or career, and the next day they are not. Everything in their life they thought was true is now no longer true. The helpful friend will help bridge that cataclysmic gap to ease the suffering and provide hope and peace for the future.

One of the most challenging tasks for someone wanting to help out their suffering friend or loved one is what to say initially. The best thing to say to someone that is dealing with a dramatic loss is that you are there for them. First, make sure your friend or loved one knows that they will not be alone. Immediately after the initial loss is not a good time to remind your loved one of what they have, such as “You still have your kids”, or “You have so much to be grateful for.” Believe me, this person is not feeling grateful and reminding them of that may only inflict more pain.

Something like this is much more comforting, “I’m here for you and I will be here for you until you ask me to leave.” The grieving person feels adrift, lost, like they have been untied to everything they once believed was a given in their life. Many people feel that by sharing their similar painful experiences, their loved ones may feel like they are not alone and it could be helpful. It’s not. Your help to others is about them, not you. Do everything you can to help your friend know that there is nothing more important to you right now than their feelings and comfort. The point is to help make your friend or loved one feel so embraced and surrounded by love and strength that your buoyancy can help lift them up as well.

Be respectful of their state of mind and let their current actions or behaviors guide you to a suitable mood or environment to create. You may sense that your loved one is beginning to revive by the warming companionship of you and others, or you may sense that your loved one is painfully trying to tolerate visitors. If you sense your loved one needs a little peace, try to help him/her by counseling guests or offering a place for your fried to be alone or to help create a much quieter environment.

Don’t assume that because someone is facing a traumatic loss that they have lost their ability to make their own decisions. Be there for them, but don’t patronize them by making their decisions or assuming you know what is best for them. If you ask them do you want to eat now, and they say no, don’t keep asking “Are you sure?” However, it is very appropriate to offer help, especially in practical matters that you know might be important. For instance, you may ask your friend if it would be all right with them if you asked a neighbor to dog sit for a couple days. Or you might suggest, “Would it be OK with you if I put your phone on vibrate and set it over here for a while?” The last thing your friend needs right now is a lot of well intentioned, but nevertheless invasive advice. Starting out a sentence with “You should” or “Why don’t you” is probably not appropriate at this time.

Allow the grieving person to lead, and his/her supporters should follow at the same pace. Never assume anything about your friend’s feelings, even if you have suffered a similar loss. If you can’t read the situation, ask gentle questions to your loved one, like; “Do you want to talk about it?” or “Would you feel better if you could sleep for a while?”

Allow your grieving friend to grieve. If he/she needs to cry, be there for them and just let them cry until they naturally stop. Sometimes it is so hurtful to watch them and you also may be crying, but allow the crying to burn out, just like a fire eventually extinguishes itself if unfueled. A grieving friend may want to recount the story over and over and as a supportive friend your job is to listen compassionately, over and over. The retelling of the story is one way your grieving friend may be accepting the reality of the situation. Give your loved one permission to cry, scream, get angry or break down in front of you and assure them you are a safe haven to express themselves.

Supporting a friend and loved one for their grief and loss is an ongoing assignment. Your immediate support is critical, but ongoing support is critical too. Your friend/loved one is going to need you in the next weeks/months. Be a good listener. Allow your loved one to direct their own path, bolstering them up any time you can with your continued support. The most important thing is that you insure that your friend knows you are available and ready to listen and be there for them anytime. Encourage activities that facilitate further support, like occasionally taking over dinner, offering to do some shopping and babysitting for them, inviting them out for a bookstore visit or to accompany them to church or support groups.

If you truly feel your friend is not dealing with their loss in a natural progressive way, or you are concerned over their declining health or perhaps even for their life, please get professional help. If your friend does not want to pursue professional help themselves, then maybe you should contact a spiritual or grief counselor to get support for yourself to help your friend.

Dealing with loss BEFORE it is a reality is a powerful way to arm ourselves with the tools necessary to forge through a dramatic loss untouched by the fire. One of the most insightful and strengthening concepts about life is the concept that until we can release the attachments we have to the others or events in our lives, we will always leave ourselves open to the risk and the potential for great pain and suffering. I realize this concept may intellectually seem logical and resonate with us, but practically, it is near impossible, especially without putting in the spiritual work to gain some of these insights. And certainly while one is in the midst of a deeply painful experience, is not a good time to remind someone of this. Because grieving is a result of the physical loss someone may have experienced, building up our spiritual strength to not only help others, but to help ourselves as well, is a wonderful way to live in greater peace and wisdom. This is a difficult topic to think about, but spiritual masters throughout all times have counseled us that while we never release or detach from the love we have for others we must release our attachments to others as a part of our own identity. Realizing the infinite wholeness of ourselves and living with a purpose that does not require a dependency on any one thing or person will not necessarily stop the pain we feel with the loss of a loved one, but will allow us to live in peace and continued purpose knowing that our true identity, and theirs, can never be diminished.

Nice to Meet You

Joleen (Bridges) Halloran is the author of Finding Home - Breaking Free from Limits. This book represents over 10 years of research and inspiration in the topics of personal and spiritual empowerment and provides readers with a pathway to overcome limits and discover authentic divine qualities in their lives and to live a life of unlimited freedom. .

Beyond Joleen's professional life, she is an avid reader and researcher of books related to her special passion, which is metaphysical and spirituality topics. You can find out more about Joleen's book at her books website,www.breakingfreefromlimits.com. Additional articles of a spiritual and inspirational nature can be found at the book's website as well.

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    • DougReid profile image

      Douglas Reid 4 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Thank you for your hub. It is very insightful. I especially like the last paragraph and the suggestion that we work on our attachments and our excessive dependence.