5 tips for talking to a grieving loved one or friend

This week I’d like to share an article I received through a new online friend named Angela Tollersons. She came to my website, www.changewithcourage.com, and expressed an interest in writing an article on grief for me. I liked what she wrote and decided to share it with you here.

Whether it’s a family member or friend, talking about the loss of a loved one is never easy. But talking about death is an important part of the grieving process and can make the person experiencing the loss feel a bit less alone.

Use these tips to stay mindful of how you’re communicating with your friend or family member during this sensitive time.

  1. Choose Your Words Carefully

Avoid talking about religion or the afterlife, comparing their loss to yours, or invalidating their pain. Realize that nothing you can say will relieve your loved one of all the pain they’re feeling, so don’t go into a conversation expecting to “fix” them. Instead, make sure your conversation is inspired by genuine sympathy and support.

  1. Practice Patience

Since one symptom of grief is feeling detached from other people, it’s possible your friend or family member won’t want to talk about his loss at all.

When this happens, practice patience. Don’t push him to express his feelings; let him come to you on his own terms. Forcing him to talk about the situation before he feels ready won’t be beneficial for the healing process.

Refrain from passing judgment on your loved one’s behavior. Endless crying, lashing out, and feelings of guilt are natural parts of the grieving process. Be understanding of these behaviors and continue to provide your unwavering support.

  1. Listen

It’s not easy for your loved one to open up and talk about her loss, so make it easier on her by being a great listener. Listen silently and without judgment.

Giving your full attention to your loved one is just another way of saying “I care about you.”

In this way, sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all.

  1. Offer Your Assistance

Make it clear that you’re available to talk whenever he’s ready.

When you’re dealing with someone who prefers not to talk about the death of a loved one, the best way for you to show your love and support is by helping out with meals and errands for a while.

Tell them you’ll pick them up some dinner or that you’d like to go pick up the groceries. Offer to help out with house chores or child care.

Even if your loved one isn’t receptive to your verbal support right now, small acts of love and kindness like these will help send the message.

  1. Don’t Let Distance Stand in Your Way

If your loved one is miles away, the lines of communication can still be open with video chatting, phone calls, and email.

The responsibility of making the first move will likely fall on you, so be persistent but not pushy.

Ask if they’d be interested in a family conference call where a few of you can check in and catch up. Even if it’s a brief 10-minute exchange, they’ll appreciate your concern as long as you also respect their space.

No matter how you communicate–through words or through your actions–know that your intentions are all that matter.

It may feel difficult to find the right words to help make this time more bearable for your loved one. But if you’re reaching out with compassion and support, your loved one will know that you’re doing your best to help them through this difficult time.

Angela Tollersons has a passion for family health and wellness. She currently volunteers as often as possible in her community with parenting and child advocacy groups, especially those who focus on special education and anti-bullying.

When she is not updating her blog, she is usually exploring the great outdoors or playing a game of Scrabble with her family.


String of celebrity deaths opens up conversations

Starting on the 10th of January when British singer, star, and trailblazer David Bowie (69) made his final transition, the world has been seeing quite a few celebrities make their exit from this earth: The revered British actor Alan Rickman (69) and musician Rene Angelil (73), Celine Dion’s husband (and manager), both died of cancer on January 14th. Then, Glenn Frey (67), the Eagles’ songwriter, guitarist and founding member made his transition on Monday, January 18th due to complications from several illnesses.

All of these Transitions, especially coming all at once, have got our attention. And in some cases, they have been helping us think about and reflect on death in some new ways. David Bowie’s death in particular, one in which Bowie clearly made some deliberate preparations, has clearly been assisting those persons already in the midst of dealing with end of life issues.

A Daily Mirror article published an article on January 18 titled “How David Bowie inspired a cancer patient at the end of her life – read doctor’s letter in full” (for full article, see: http://tinyurl.com/z4ukfdh) had a letter penned by Dr. Mark Taubert, a palliative care consultant at Vlindre NHS Trust in Cardiff.

In his moving letter, the end of life care expert Dr. Taubert told David Bowie that his death had sparked a “weighty” discussion with a dying woman in the hospital. He added that it had also opened up the possibility for some patients so that they could die at home, rather than in an institution. He wrote on the blog page of a British Medical Journal: “We discussed your death and your music, and it got us talking about numerous weighty subjects, that are not always straightforward to discuss with someone facing their own demise. … In fact, your story became a way for us to communicate very openly about death, something many doctors and nurses struggle to introduce as a topic of conversation.”

Dr, Taubert also wrote in his letter to Bowie that many of the people he talks with as part of his job “think that death predominantly happens in hospitals, in very clinical settings, but I presume you chose home and planned this in some detail. … This is one of our aims in palliative care, and your ability to achieve this may mean that others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled.”

These endings and reflections are reminding me of a powerful book that I found very meaningful several years ago, by a young Jewish scholar named Erica Brown. Her book is titled: Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death (2013), and it is a remarkable, practical book covering a wide range of topics related to death and our culture (more at Erica Brown’s link).

One of the things I especially liked about this book, besides how practical and full of many stories and aspects of life and death it incorporated, is that Brown critiques Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.

She says that the first four states of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression – actually all come under the one category, “Denial.” She then states that the last stage, Acceptance, needs to actually be called “Resignation,” not Acceptance, because usually people in our culture are not very good at accepting death. Rather, we become resigned to it. I believe this to be true.

But then she adds that there’s one more category that needs to be added: That of “Inspiration.” When someone is able to say the words “I need to be prepared” for death, then this intention gives the person Inspiration – in other words, “permission to love more fully, to say the words they’ve wanted to say for a lifetime, to repair and heal troubled relationships, and to entertain a range of ethereal and spiritual thoughts and actions often previously closed off, sealed, or masked by the pragmata of everyday anxieties. … Inspiration is an admission of possibility. It is the last gift we give the living.”  (p. 8)

I like this concept of bringing Inspiration into the topic of death! And I like to think that this is at least in part what I help people do, by writing about death, grief, change, transitions and endings of all kinds, calling people’s attention to these sorts of things that we’d normally rather not focus on.

Please share your thoughts and comments with us below.David BowieHappier Endings