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How Do You Support A Grieving Person Cope With The Loss Of A Loved One?

Posted: October 6, 2017

A grieving person needs to take their time for coping with loss when a loved one has passed away. How do you support them in these trying times?

How does one cope with loss? Loss not of a job but the physical presence of an individual. We hear these stories, read about them on social media/news and at times it hits close to home.

Earlier this year a friend lost a parent – it was sudden and unexpected. Another close friend lost his parent a few days ago due to a long terminal illness. I lost my brother post a medical condition – this happened a month ago and he was on his way to recovery. Unfortunately, the night before he was to be discharged he passed away.

The days that followed are wrought with deep sadness. Having a big family helps; however each member is affected in their own way, given their relationship to the individual.

It made me think, how does one deal with grief? How do you console yourself or someone in pain? What words can you possibly say that would help? Words like ‘it will be okay’ seem insulting and futile. ‘I understand’ cannot be said by those who haven’t experienced the same. What do you say? How do you help?

Uncertainty

The thought of a future without that person in your life can cause panic, sadness, fear or a feeling of helplessness. You may not see them in the house when you wake up. No longer would the phone ring with their name flashing on the screen. How will you go on from that point? Dynamics of a family change. Roles and responsibilities merge in ways one never predicted.

At that point offer support. Tell the friend/relative that you will be there in a capacity you know you can promise. Deliver on those when the time comes. Let the person know that they have people around to depend on, that you are one of them. It doesn’t bring back the individual but it does provide relief knowing someone can help. So many people in the world battle through such times alone. That in itself is another struggle altogether.

The flood of memories

What can make coping difficult though is a natural process – is the innumerable memories that come to the mind in the days that follow. Memories long forgotten creep out from the crevices of the mind. You relive those days, those moments, arguments and adventures. You hold on to things about the person which make you feel their presence.

A recent post by Sangeeta Akshay Girish elaborates her beautiful life with her martyred husband, Major Girish. She shares her journey and talks of how she ‘hasn’t washed his regimental jacket as it smells of him’.

Living each day without the individual, surrounded by memories, helps provide solace and comfort. It makes you not think of their complete absence. It keeps them close.

Let the person talk about the past as it helps. Let them cry and release these intense emotions. This is a part of the healing process. We may feel that distracting the person any time they talk is required so they don’t cry, however it is healthy to talk about these memories. It is a sense of closure for the person to be able to keep them alive in thoughts and words and in conversations with others.

Refrain from explanation

Do not explain the why and how of the loss. The fact of the matter is that the individual is no longer there. Anything you say with regards to explaining the loss will not help. Do not rationalize or provide reasons for the person in grief to understand why it happened – as if that would help in the coping process.

Such a time is emotional and logic comes about in the healing thereafter, not with immediate effect.

Respect the person’s way of grieving

Our environment, upbringing and life in general have our personalities. We all have a unique way of processing information and situations and reacting to these.

Respect how one grieves as we all grieve differently. One doesn’t have to be engulfed in sobs to count as grieving. There are some of us who may not cry however may do so in private. The ones who seem calm all the while could have a storm brewing within them. There may be ones who do not wish to talk about the individual they lost and rather focus on the arrangements and mundane aspects of each day and daily chores.

Understand and accept how they grieve. Do not jump to how you feel will help. Listening is critical to knowing the needs of the other rather than jumping to advise or what we think is ‘best’.

Be available/Stay connected

Given your relationship with the grieving person, ensure that you are available and stay connected. Not just in the few days post the occurrence but increase frequency of contact from then on. It’s not about the initial days only but one needs support more so when the relatives /friends /well-wishers have paid their respects and gone back to their lives. Which is fair game of course. However, the loss hits harder when others resume their daily life and the one grieving feels the vacuum now more than ever.

Be there for each day. Call /discuss /listen /help with chores or basic errands if required. Make plans /help with official paperwork if requested. All of this takes effort. And that’s what is needed in the days that follow the loss.

Keep a lookout for warning signs

Keep a lookout for ways the person is coping with loss. The person may slip into denial as a defense mechanism or post few months if grief is consistent, may start to border on depression. Habits that may start or increase like use of any substances – nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, overeating or loss of appetite.

Even sleep patterns and hygiene are indicators of one’s way of coping. It is important to observe and thus help the person move forward from the life change rather than it resulting in their mental /physical health being impacted.

Listening and silence

Listen compassionately. Do not force them to talk. Sometimes silence is as helpful as conversation may be. Sometimes comfort and support can be expressed by just providing your company and presence so when doesn’t feel alone. The aim is to offer reassurance without minimizing the loss.

Offer extra support on days like birthdays /anniversaries /special occasions for the person /festivals etc.

Above all else – LOVE

Show your love. Show up for the person. Say something. Give a hug. Listen. Be present. Love is what is needed. Love is healing. Love helps the course of life shine brightly, one twinkling star at a time…

Image source: pixabay

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Counselling Psychologist and Educator by vocation. Multitask-er, wanderer, adrenaline junkie & life enthusiast. True loves -

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