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Wednesday 23 July 2014

Simple Tips for supporting Grieving persons

Tips for supporting those who might be grieving


A suggestion from one reader has asked that there be some discussion on the topic of relationships, commitment and changing life directions, which I will attend to, but first due to the level of response of what has happened within the last few days with the events of Flight MH17 and the subsequent grief, shock and anger, I thought it may be better to address these topics first and then address those other ones later in a later post.


Because of the seriousness of these concerns, the tone will be a little bit more sombre, so bear with me.


So, in a nutshell, if you are the person who is helping and/or supporting someone who is experiencing grief or a sudden loss, keep the following  8 points in mind:


1.      Acknowledge the grieving person’s experience.   Above all don’t deny it. Don’t dismiss it with platitudes such as “he’s in a better place” or “It’s God’s will”. (Yikes!). Don’t counter what they feel.  If they feel sad or angry, confused, shocked or in denial.  Don’t counter it...... just yet. There are a plethora of emotions when someone is in shock and grief. The best thing to do is ask them WHAT they are feeling and reflect it back to them but, here is a caution: don’t parrot them. And don’t tell the person: “I know how you must feel” – because this will get you in to hot water. So, Acknowledge, but don’t counter. Even if the person has a fantasy that the dead person will somehow “comeback” – go with it.

2.      Be ready for any emotion. This comes as a follow up on point #1. Realize that when people grieve that there may be a huge variance in experience. One may be angry. One may be sad. Some people will go very quiet and thoughtful. Some may even be happy! Yes, happy, such as the person, who being a caregiver for the deceased says wistfully: “I am happy she is in a better place. She has no pain now”. Don’t be surprised that any emotion may surface. And again, don’t react back to the expression of the emotion. Acknowledge what the person is feeling.

3.      The deceased individual is now a void in a network or system of relationships. Realize that within a family system or network of friends or relatives, should one person lose a member of the family, it will affect everyone in different ways. So for example, this person was someone’s son, and husband, lover, grandfather, etc. Don’t expect that there will be someone in the family who will be functional. They may all be temporarily dysfunctional. So for example, a young mother of 3 young children dies. Her husband is grieving. He has lost his wife. Her children are grieving. They have lost their mother. The grandparents are both grieving. They have lost their daughter. The young mother’s siblings are grieving. They have lost their sister. And so on. So in a situation like this, really nobody within the family group is not in distress and may be not be functioning at high capacity. Quite possibly the only people who might be able to help in this scenario are the other in-laws, in other words, the family on the young father’s side. They should be the ones who should be helping, if they can.

4.      Try not to react back to emotion, if intense. The person is not in their right mind. As stated in points 1 and 2. The person is in an intense state of shock, grief, horror, etc. As the helper, because of displacement (see my post on displacement in “Just Get Over It!(Already).... Not!) you as the helper, because you are the closest person to the grieving individual, you may be target of displaced anger. No, you didn’t cause the cancer, or the airplane/train crash/murder (fill-in-the-blank). But because the grieving person can’t attack the one who is responsible for the tragedy, they may lash out at you. This is a displacement. See it for what it is.  

5.      Don’t set a time limit on the grief.... just yet. Grief and loss take time to get over. Indeed, some people never unfortunately get over their losses. And as I mentioned in another earlier post, they will “get over it” in direct proportion to how comfortable and safely they can give up their “life-ring”.

6.      One loss may bring up reminders of other past losses. Realize that one loss will sometimes bring up memories of other losses in the past. Don’t be surprised if the person starts talking or going back to other similar-related losses (e.g. a death of cancer/suicide/murder/, etc.) will bring to mind other similar losses. Also, other losses of any description, will be felt more keenly by the individual than normally. And the grieving person may also be reminded of other losses unrelated to a death, i.e. their personal loss of job, function, ability, relationship, whatever.

7.      Check in with them emotionally on a regular basis.  If you see any special red flags – especially if they feel suicidal or homicidal. Then you need to seek a local professional immediately. See my earlier post on “When Talking to Friends isn’t enough”.  Often when a person is grieving, there is also a possibility that the potential loss is enough for them to either want to take their life or someone else’s. This makes total sense. Remember point from points 2 and 3, that the person is temporarily dysfunctional and may have any sort of emotional reaction and may choose to act out on those reactions. Hence this is why some people may have suicidal thoughts when a loved one dies and/or they may have homicidal thoughts. They may want to go out and kill the perpetrator.  Neither approach is really quite balanced but the emotional state of the grieving person is so powerful in that moment.  This may help to explain a great deal about terrorism and “tit-for-tat” killing and feuding.

8.       Be on the lookout for grief overwhelm and identification.  (See my earlier two posts on identification.) This is also sometimes called vicarious trauma. If you are working with a grieving person, you may start to identify yourself with the grief. By trying to help and understand what they are going through, you yourself may start to feel grief, especially if the person is not dealing with it. Take time out to get help for yourself. That way, you can feel better and healthier and more able to help your friends or loved ones grieve.


I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

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Take care,


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