Recently a Facebook friend of mine has been posting about appropriate ways to handle situations where people are grieving. I was happy she did it, because she addressed some of the ways that we can be unhelpful to people when they are going through difficult times. I think that most of us truly do want to help and have the best intentions, but sometimes we say things that send implicit (hidden) messages to people that they should get over it and move on. While we certainly wouldn’t wish for anyone we love to be grieving forever, it’s important to give people the time they need to go through the process. It’s natural to feel sad, upset, angry, and frustrated at the occurrence of a loss. So, what do we need in the face of grief?
1. Time- It is a natural human response to a loss to feel the need to get away for a while. Sometimes, people don’t feel like being bothered, and sometimes they feel fine. There is no prescription for grief and everyone’s process is different. Give yourself time to feel the loss and throw all the stuff about how you are “supposed” to grieve out the window. Often, people can have a delayed response. So, it could be really meaningful if you drop and email or call 2-3 weeks after a loss, when most other people have gotten back into the swing of their lives.
2. Support- Support can come in a lot of different ways. Some people just need someone to sit there while they cry. Some people need to talk about the person that they lost, look at pictures, and reminisce. Some people need instrumental help- food, laundry, washing dishes, opening mail, etc. If you’re going to offer something to a person who’s grieving, do it. If you aren’t really willing to do “anything” they ask- then don’t promise that. If you aren’t actually going to answer the phone at 3am, don’t say “I’m here whenever you need me.” Sometimes, people don’t know what they want. Offer some choices of things you can offer, or just do it! People who are grieving may need to be gently reminded to eat, sleep, go for a walk, or shower. If you need to do this, do so in love and understanding.
3. Space- Give people the space to feel their feelings about the situation. As church folks, we are famous for giving people all these churchy phrases that are supposed to help people feel better: “They are in a better place.” or “Don’t cry. It will be ok.” or “Be strong.” Sometimes, people don’t feel like being strong, they don’t want to look at the big picture of God’s plan, and they don’t want to think about anything after the minute they are currently trying to survive. This was one of the things I remember being most frustrated about after my dad died. People were telling me how good of a man he was, how he was now with God, etc, etc. All of those things were true, and I still believe them. But, the day after his death, they were the furthest from my mind. I really just needed someone to hand me a tissue and tell me that they were sorry it happened. That’s all.
4. Pray- Combine whatever physical acts you do with the act of prayer. Just as we need it every day, people who are grieving need more than ever to feel God’s comfort. It can be hard to understand or make sense of your loss. Sometimes people feel angry at God and that’s ok. Just remember that God’s protection and love is bigger and better than any a human can give. It might feel like too much for the grieving person to pray for themselves at that time, so your prayers are important.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the well known model of Stages of Grief. What we now know is that while these don’t necessarily go in a certain order, they are common reactions to a loss:
So, if you find yourself or a loved one having these feelings after a loss, remember, what you are feeling is normal. Don’t try to force yourself to feel something else, or “get over it” before you’re ready. Try to take care of yourself and move through the process naturally. When we move to the place that we have accepted the loss, we can begin to figure out what life looks like without our loved one. But, this is only after we give ourselves the time we need to grieve.
Note: Feeling of sadness, crying, etc. are all a part of the grieving process. While there is no prescribed time, most people are able to return to some sense of normalcy within a few weeks or a month. Things will still be hard, but they often feel less overwhelming and impossible. If it’s been several months and things don’t seem to be getting more manageable, it might help to reach out to a professional for support.
More next week on Recovering from Grief. Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!