The phone rang, nothing out of the ordinary in the Jacobs’ home ― except this was not to be an “ordinary” phone call. Sharon picked up the receiver only to hear the unthinkable. Her neighbor’s daughter Tracy had been hit by an automobile while returning home from school. This beautiful teen died instantly. Sharon had known Tracy since she was a little girl. She was devastated and wanted to do something to console her cherished neighbors, but she felt helpless and unsure of how to proceed.
Losing a loved one is unbelievably heart-wrenching. The pain of grief and loss is almost more than one can bear. When loved ones ― family or friends ― experience such a trauma , we want to help in some way but how? What do we say? What can we do? It is because we care so deeply that our desire is to “make it better” or “fix it” but we soon realize this is not “fixable.”
Following are a few suggestions that may be helpful:
There is no “right” way to grieve
. Because everyone grieves differently, be sensitive and patient with your friend’s or loved one’s way of grieving. This means to avoid stereotyping. Be cautious about using labels such as “lonely,” “depressed” or “angry.” You may be incorrect in your assessment and would risk offending, rather than helping.
. First and foremost, be available. Do something rather than ignoring the person or the reality of the death. Because we often don’t know how to respond, we stay away and do nothing. Sometimes an email, call or text is a gentle way to stay connected.
The right words may not be that important
. When your not sure what to say, sometimes just being there and saying nothing or very little is most helpful. If you are responding from the heart, with love, the nonverbal communication reaches the grieved. Don’t hesitate to use a touch, a hug or a handclasp when appropriate. It can bring great comfort, and sometimes it is more powerful than words and is all that is needed.
Listen without giving advice
. This is extremely difficult for most of us. We so want to “fix it” rather than just listen. What most grievers really want is to talk to someone and feel that what is said is accepted and understood. Advice generally aborts that process. Reflective listening (listening for emotion and saying them back in your own words) can help a person feel understood and believe that you really do care.
Don’t hesitate to mention the deceased
, assuming that if you bring up the subject, it will remind the surviving person of the death and/or the pain. By not mentioning the deceased, you are pretending that he or she never lived―or that’s how it may come across.
The key to reaching out to others in need is to just do it! Follow your heart and trust that your heart will take you where you need to go. Our families, friends and neighbors need and deserve our support.