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.