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.


Reflections from a man acquainted with grief

Recently, I made a lovely connection through LinkedIn with a unique man named Dave Roberts, who is an educator at several Upstate NY colleges. He also specializes as a writer and counselor for the beareaved and those who suffer with addiction. I had the chance to interview him, and this is what he had to share.

1) What brought you into the arena of Grief Work?

The death of my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine in March of 2003 due to cancer, was the catalyst for my interest and passion for grief work. As a result of the challenges presented by her death, it was necessary to find meaning in a world that was and will be forever different, through service to individuals and families who have experienced catastrophic loss. It was necessary for me to embrace this perspective because I believe that we have two choices when we experience life altering loss: 1) to wallow permanently in the muck of despair, without transforming our grief, or 2) to wallow through the muck of despair, allowing it to lead us to find joy and meaning again.

2) How would distinguish yourself from other teachers and writers of grief?

That is a great question. I think one of the things that distinguishes me is that my writing is a product of my ongoing evolution or transformation from loss. So where I am at that particular moment comes out in my writing. Included in this are all of the connections and synchronicities that have allowed me to develop greater awareness of myself and my relationship to the world around me. It is a very transparent and empowering process for me to share a path that has allowed me to embrace a peaceful perspective after loss.

Another thing that I believe distinguishes me from other teachers and writers of grief is how I choose to view my experience. For example, many parents in my circumstances refer to themselves permanently as bereaved parents. I did see myself early on as a bereaved parent, but now I simply refer to myself as a parent who has experienced the death of a child. I also celebrate the fact that I am a husband, a father to two terrific sons, a college professor and a writer. The death of my daughter Jeannine has redefined my life experience, but it is not the totality of my life experience.

3) What brings you the most Joy around the work you do? 

I believe that the experience of death and its aftermath are among the most intimate of events that we experience in the human existence. I feel honored and inspired when I have the opportunity to witness the stories of individuals who have experienced loss. It is not only the stories about their friends or family who have died, it is about what they have discovered as a result of their challenges with death. Their stories and paths are to be honored.

4) What brings you the most anguish or sadness around the work you do?

The person that sees no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel after loss, and is permanently stuck in his or her pain. This perhaps is because the person has no coping skills that promote resiliency or that the expression of intense emotional pain is reinforced by others around them, unwittingly or otherwise without encouragement to transform it.

5) What teachings do you wish to leave with our readers ?

Support from others who have experienced and understand your pain is crucial to working through your grief. Shared pain is a gateway to hope.

Every emotion that we experience, both positive and negative, is a crucial piece in the mosaic that comprises the path we walk after the death of our loved ones. We can learn from everything.

Don’t be so focused on living in the present moment, that you ignore the teachings of your past.

Our grief journeys are marathons, not sprints. Be gentle with yourself.

Be Tiggers in the aftermath of loss. Tigger was my daughter Jeannine’s favorite Disney character because he bounced and was the only one. Bounce along your path to transformation anyway that works for you and respect others’ right to do the same. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others, it is all good.

Commit to walking in awareness of signs from our loved ones and understand that our relationships with our loved ones can continue after the physical body dies.

Thank you, Dave, for your words of wisdom here. Dave RobertsYou can see more on Dave Roberts and his writings here. He also writes for the Huffington Post.

Maria will be leading a “feel-good,” aromatherapy class called Joyful Transitions and the Essential Oils this evening at the Brilliant Moon. Please call them to register here: (360) 868-2190.

 


How Shall We Grieve in Tumultuous Times?

We live in a culture where expressing grief is not honored in meaningful ways. We live in a society that’s awkward around the subject of death & dying, as well as grief. We have “bereavement leaves” in the workplace that last for three or four days.

We use words like you need to “get over it,” and “keep busy,” and maintain a “stiff upper lip.” It’s almost as if we encourage each other to turn a blind eye and ear to our true feelings. So it’s no wonder that we call the expression of grief “grief work.” It is indeed work to express our feelings in our culture where it is not easy to do something that’s actually quite a natural process.

Having acknowledged that, I now would like to invite you to imagine with me what it would be like to be living in a totally different culture, where expressing grief is encouraged and honored. I’ve been reading some material by a woman named Sobonfu Some — her name means “keeper of the rituals” — of West Africa whose tribe, the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, actually encourages their people to let go and grieve whatever no longer serves them.

As a child, she remembers when a friend of hers died and she was asked the question, “Have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?” rather than “Aren’t you finished crying about that yet?” The belief among the Dagara Tribe is that hanging on to old pain makes it grow until it can smother our joy and creativity; it even could have the potential to kill us. So it’s always a good thing to be let go and release. 

Wouldn’t it feel liberating to imagine living in a place like that – to imagine that kind of encouragement and permission to grieve?

I have heard it said that if all the women of the world could cry at once, the world would be healed, we would have peace in an instant! I believe this might be true. Certainly, if all of us who needed to cry and grieve and release “old stuff” could do so when necessary, we probably wouldn’t be fighting each other so much. We wouldn’t play the blaming game, the shaming game so much. Rather, we might take more responsibility for our own pain and work to let it go.

So, as we consider our grief and the memories of those we have loved, I want to invite you to grieve in any way that you can, today and in the days ahead! I want to invite you to be really good to yourselves in these grief-laden, sometimes intensely pain-filled days – even if not in your world, in other parts of the country or in the world at large.

May you find, and even create time to be sad, to look at photographs of your loved one and remember, even cry your eyes out, if you need to. May you honor the things and people and places that your loved one loved, and do things that will help you to honor and remember them. May you find creative, safe ways in which to release your feelings of anger, rage, denial, sorrow, and loneliness – like writing in a journal, going for long walks in the beauty of nature and letting Mother Earth know about your pain, seeking out a support group or a counselor, and really delving into and embracing your pain and sorrow – and all the other emotions that go along with it.

One of the things I find myself doing as a bereavement counselor is giving people permission to grieve the way they need and want to. I’ll never forget a phone call I made years ago to a woman who had just lost someone very significant in her life. She said that her friends were urging her to get out with them and “do things.” But she said that all she felt like doing at the time was to stay in bed and eat ice cream. I suggested to her that probably what she needed to do for at least the next little while was to stay in bed and eat ice cream! If that’s what felt good to her, that’s what she deserved to do for herself. We all sometimes need this encouragement to follow the guidance that our intuition is already bringing us.

When you are dealing with any kind of grief, I recommend doing at the very least the following four things:

  1. Receive the GOOD STUFF that others have for you; and ask for what you need.
  2. Go Inward – this can potentially be a time of great transformation and empowerment for you.
  3. MOVE your Energy. This will help you move your emotions, too. Go outside, or to the gym if you prefer, and get your body moving. This will help your emotions flow, too; plus it will help you simply feel better.
  4. Let your Emotions OUT – however you do it, find creative ways to cry, weep, wail, get angry, express your frustration, whatever you need to do. This will help you feel better, too.

If you go to the “Books” Page of my website, Change with Courage Books Page, you’ll find a Grief Pointers sheet that you may download for free.

This conversation is to be continued, and we welcome your stories, questions and comments around these topics.

Published in Mason County Journal: 10/15/15